Tread carefully

Published 12:34 am Thursday, October 20, 2011

Any plan that effectively reduces minority representation on the Beaufort County Board of Education should be rejected by the U.S. Department of Justice.

With that written, we add there is no guarantee the redistricting map approved Tuesday night by the school board will make it more difficult for minorities to elect candidates of their choice to that local governing body.

The efficacy of the redistricting plan will be determined by the Justice Department, but it’s important to note, early in this process, that minority voting rights must not be infringed.

This, after all, was the goal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, especially as it relates to Section 5 of the act — the section that mandates “preclearance” by the Justice Department of any election plans here.

We wish Section 5 were no longer necessary in 2011, with Barack Obama in the White House and numerous black elected leaders on local boards and committees, in Congress and in the N.C. General Assembly.

We’d like to claim that racial polarization — the tendency of voters to split along racial lines — is no longer a problem in Beaufort County as in much of the South.

We’d like to rest easy in the knowledge that historic progress made as a direct result of the civil rights movement will not be erased by time.

We cannot make these claims with any security, and there is plenty of statistical evidence to indicate that racial polarization still plagues elections in Beaufort County.

This is why the school board, and by extension the Justice Department, should tread carefully as redistricting progresses.

As a society, we cannot afford to fall back from important gains based on so flimsy a reason as shifting census tracts.

If the current plan doesn’t work, the drawing board awaits.