The U.S. Department of Justice and the City of West Monroe have settled a voting rights lawsuit after federal officials realized that no Black candidate has ever been elected to the city’s Board of Aldermen despite 30% of the electorate being Black. The city has agreed to change its at-large method of electing its Board of Aldermen, according to a DOJ press release.
The proposed consent decree, which the DOJ announced Thursday, is to ensure that West Monroe remains compliant with the federal Voting Rights Act. The DOJ warned the city that its method of electing at-large aldermen left Black citizens in West Monroe with less opportunity than White citizens to participate in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice.
Despite Black residents comprising nearly 30% of the electorate, no Black candidate has ever been elected to the West Monroe Board of Aldermen. The complaint does not allege that the current method of election was adopted or maintained with discriminatory intent.
The Justice Department notified the city of its intent to file a federal lawsuit on the matter on March 4, prompting the city to open settlement talks. Under the consent decree, which is subject to approval by Louisiana’s U.S. Western District Court — West Monroe will discontinue its current use of at-large elections for the five members of its Board of Aldermen. For the next municipal election, scheduled March 26, 2022, three members of the board will be elected from single-member districts and two members will be elected at-large. The agreement also requires that West Monroe publicize the new method of election.
“The Voting Rights Act remains a vital tool to ensure that underrepresented citizens have a fair chance to choose their representatives,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela Karlan for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We appreciate that the City of West Monroe has worked diligently and cooperatively with the department to adopt a solution that provides all the City’s citizens with an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect aldermen of their choice.”