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Federal lawsuit: Arkansas voting system dilutes black rights

FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2018, file photo, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, right, speaks with Parliamentarian Buddy Johnson in the Arkansas House chamber in Little Rock. A federal lawsuit alleges the voting system for some Arkansas judges violates black residents' rights by diluting the strength of the vote. Lawyers for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed the lawsuit Monday, June 10, 2019. A spokeswoman says state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is reviewing the complaint.
FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2018, file photo, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, right, speaks with Parliamentarian Buddy Johnson in the Arkansas House chamber in Little Rock. A federal lawsuit alleges the voting system for some Arkansas judges violates black residents' rights by diluting the strength of the vote. Lawyers for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed the lawsuit Monday, June 10, 2019. A spokeswoman says state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is reviewing the complaint. AP Photo

The voting system for electing judges to Arkansas' top courts violates black residents' rights by diluting the strength of their votes, according to a federal lawsuit filed by civil rights lawyers.

The lawsuit filed Monday says that because the state's seven Supreme Court justices are elected statewide, instead of by district, the white voting bloc overpowers the votes of black Arkansas residents. The suit says that's why no black judge has ever been elected to the court.

The lawsuit points to several cases in which a black candidate was supported by a majority of black voters in an election, but was defeated by a white candidate supported by a majority of white voters.

Instead, lawyers suggest the state should change the voting system for Supreme Court justices by creating electoral districts, for which black voters "in at least one district would constitute a majority of the voting-age population."

The suit also alleges that voting by districts for the state's 12 appellate judges lumps all black voters into a single electoral district, reducing the strength of the population's vote. Similar to its Supreme Court proposal, the lawsuit proposes creating two voting districts for appellate judge elections in which black voters are the majority.

A spokeswoman said state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is reviewing the complaint and considering next steps.

Lawyers for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed the lawsuit on behalf of three voters and two statewide organizations.

In Mississippi, a federal lawsuit filed by four voters two weeks ago alleged the state's system for electing its governor is aimed at preventing the election of black candidates.

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