Biloxi council differs on if Voting Rights Act still relevant today

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Some Biloxi leaders are blaming a nearly 50-year-old federal law for new proposed ward lines they think don't make a lot of sense. Next week, a second public hearing is scheduled on redistricting.

In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act which required some state to have voting districts where minorities make up the majority of the population. Some Biloxi council members say it's time to move past those days.

In East Biloxi, there are still a lot of vacant lots where houses once stood.

"The population in Katrina we lost so many people on the east end of Biloxi. In ward one, I lost almost 3,000 residents," Councilman George Lawrence said.

To offset the population decline, in the current redistricting proposals wards one and two extend west into what is now ward three. Council members said they had to do so because the United States Justice Department requires all seven Biloxi wards have roughly 5,600 residents. The federal law also mandates there be a majority minority district. Some council members said the law doesn't take into account the amount of integration over the years.

"You look at the way this is drawn and say that doesn't make a lot of sense. Well, let me tell you something folks, it doesn't make a lot of sense," said Ward Four Councilman Clark Griffith. "We've integrated, and we're not getting any credit for that."

"I think it's an antiquated law. I think it needs to be changed," Lawrence said. "I think it's time for them to look at that because everybody moves now. We're not all stuck in one area.  Things have changed and you're talking about 48 years ago. There's a big difference nowadays."

Not everyone agrees it's time to move away from Voting Rights Act.

"It's interesting that as part of the process within this state there were several other minority districts that were done away with as a result of improper planning by some people who wanted to see them go away," said Ward Two Councilman Bill Stallworth. "So we have made a lot of great progress. I don't want to take that away from anybody. But are we there yet? Not by a long shot. We are getting there as fast as we can."

The next public hearing is Tuesday at 1:30 pm.

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