NAACP raises Ahoskie annexation concerns

Published 10:46 pm Monday, October 20, 2008

AHOSKIE – Perhaps the answers to Carl White’s questions will come later today (Tuesday).

White, president of the Hertford County branch of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), sent a letter last week to Town of Ahoskie officials in regards to how the proposed annexation of four areas contiguous to the town will affect the election process of the Ahoskie Town Council.

At 6:30 p.m. today, White will be able to address his concerns when Ahoskie officials conduct the final public hearing in connection with the annexation issue. That meeting will be held at the Hertford County High School cafeteria.

According to the annexation timetable as agreed on by Ahoskie’s elected leaders, they are scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 4 at Town Hall at which time they will vote on the adoption of an annexation ordinance. If that measure is approved, the town will grow by 330 total parcels in the areas of Colonial Acres, Ahoskie-Cofield/Willoughby Road, NC 561 East (Harrellsville Highway) and NC 42 West.

Meanwhile, White expressed his concerns in an Oct. 14 letter, a copy of which he supplied to the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.

In that letter, White pointed out that Ahoskie has a long and unfortunate history of racially polarized voting. He said that only two blacks were elected to the Town Council prior to 1993. That came before the Fourth Circuit US Court of Appeals decided that Ahoskie’s “at-large” electoral structure violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Since that court decision, White said Ahoskie’s blacks have had much more success of electing candidates of their choice to the town council.

However, White is concerned how the annexation will shape town’s governing body in the future, saying that a “high level of racially polarized voting remains.”

“Any changes to the town council district lines may have an impact on the ability of blacks in Ahoskie to elect candidates of their choice,” White wrote in his letter. “As the annexations that you propose will require changes to the town council district lines, I believe that it is important to study their impact ahead of time.”

White said he would like to know the answers to three questions: (1) what is the racial composition of both the total population and voting age population in the four areas proposed for annexation; (2) to which town council district will the new municipal voters in those areas be assigned; and (3) how will those assignments change the racial composition of the total population and voting age population in each affected town council district?

In his letter, White also reminded Ahoskie officials that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires any subjurisdiction within Hertford County, including Ahoskie, to receive pre-clearance of any change, with respect to voting, from the US Department of Justice.

“Without pre-clearance, such a change may not take effect,” White noted. “Annexations are changes that require pre-clearance.”

White claimed that the Justice Department will grant pre-clearance only if Ahoskie officials are able to show that the annexations will not negatively impact the ability of blacks to elect candidates of their choice to the Ahoskie Town Council.

He closed the letter by promising to attend tonight’s public hearing where he will address these issues.