tells LREMC to revamp elections
By Roxana Schaefer
February 26, 2004
LUMBERTON, NC - A Superior Court judge ordered Lumbee
River Electric Membership Corp. to change its election process in order to offer
a fairer chance for a racially representative board of directors. But the judge
stopped short of giving plaintiffs a sweeping victory, denying a request to void
the October election.
Superior Court Judge G.K. Butterfield ruled Monday in a
Robeson County court that the corporation's election procedures "have the
effect of disenfranchising the minority members of the corporation." All of
the board members are American Indian and there hasn't been a non-Indian on the
board since 1993.
"On or before June 30, 2004, the board shall make
revisions to its by-laws that will likely result in greater electoral
opportunities for African-American and Caucasian members of the corporation ...
and seek approval of the Superior Court to schedule an election,"
Butterfield ordered in his ruling.
The ruling comes after nine LREMC customers and former
board members - Ronald Hammonds, Rev. H.E. Edwards, Clifton Sampson Jr., John
Kershaw, Mernelle Baxter, Delia Quaison, John Gingras, Peter Cooper and Jeanette
Locklear- asked the court to overturn the Oct. 7 board of directors election and
hold a new election.
In denying the request to void the election, Butterfield
said it was "likely that a new election will have the same results and
members of the minority communities will continue to be unrepresented."
Hammonds ran and lost in the Oct. 7 election, during which all of the incumbent
board members were re-elected.
Butterfield told the board that it "may
consider:" eliminating at-large seats; increasing the number of districts
from nine to 12; allowing members of each district to elect their
representatives; creating multi-seat districts with cumulative voting; proxy
voting;, Saturday elections; polling hours longer than two hours; voting by
mail; "or any other procedures that will be inclusive for the minority
members of the corporation."
The plaintiffs have objected to holding the elections at
Givens Performing Arts Center in Pembroke, a largely Indian community, which
they say stack the deck in favor of the election of Indians.
The co-op was first sued by the nine plaintiffs on Sept.
25, 2002, claiming the election system was designed to keep incumbents in power
and keep people of other races from gaining seats.
Hammonds declared a victory even though the Oct. 7
election was not voided.
"I am tickled pink with the judge's wise
decision," Hammonds said. "The way he addressed it, that has been our
objective all along from day one - to bring about fairness so people could vote
for their district and no more. In my opinion, this is one of the best things
we've seen in a long time for the membership of Lumber River Electric."
Hammonds said that candidates will now "have to run
on their own merits and qualifications" without the support of slates, or
groupings of four candidates running together.
"The people in each district will be able to vote
for their own representative, not people in other counties they don't even
know," Hammonds said.
Walter White, LREMC's vice president of customer service
and community relations, said a court order from Jan. 28 stopped the company
from publicly discussing the suit, and the company wasn't sure if the ruling
After the Oct. 7 election, Hammonds made additional
complaints to the company's Credentials and Elections Committee, which resulted
in the committee recommending that the board address parking issues at Givens,
number ballot boxes, improve accommodations for disabled voters, consider
extending voting time, consider allowing customers to vote in less than all of
the elections and consider alternatives to resolution voting - a process which
allows one person to vote for a business or organization.
One LREMC employee was fired for forging resolution votes
in the October election, according to the complaint.