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NAACP sues over county redistricting

JACKSON (AP) — Local branches of the NAACP have filed lawsuits that seek to extend election qualifying deadlines in more than a dozen Mississippi counties until voting boundaries can be redrawn based on new census information.

Tuesday was the deadline in Mississippi for candidates to qualify to run in 2011 elections for county offices, but voting blocks will change in many areas because of the population shifts tracked by the census. Mississippi’s census numbers were released last month and officials say they just haven’t had time to redraw districts and get the new boundaries approved by the federal government. Each county has five supervisor districts.

The lawsuits were filed Monday in U.S. District Court in the state’s northern and southern districts.

Carroll Rhodes, an attorney representing the NAACP, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that all qualifying deadlines in Mississippi should be pushed back until June 1 to give county supervisors more time to redraw districts.

In 2009, Mississippi lawmakers extended the 2011 qualifying deadlines for legislative candidates from March 1 to June 1. They were hoping to give themselves enough time redraw district lines and receive approval from the U.S. Justice Department, which checks to ensure that redistricting plans are fair to minorities.

“It’s sad it had to come to this because the Legislature didn’t do the same favor for supervisors and other officials that they did for themselves,” Rhodes said. “They pushed their qualifying deadlines back, but didn’t give anyone else the same courtesy.”

Senate Elections Committee Chairman Terry Burton, R-Newton, said Tuesday the redrawing of supervisor districts is a local issue and the Legislature has nothing to do with it.

“Many counties have gone out on their own and sought approval to move the qualifying deadline back if they felt the need for relief. It is not a matter for the Legislature,” said Burton.

Copiah County Supervisor Perry Hood said the county must redraw the voting lines and hold a public hearing on the new districts before sending the plan to the Justice Department, which he said could take two months.

“We’re not even close to doing it,” Hood said. “It’s going to be pushing it to make it by June 1.”

The NAACP lawsuits filed Monday involve the following counties: Adams, Amite, Claiborne, Copiah, DeSoto, Panola, Pike, Simpson, Tallahatchie, Tunica, Warren, Webster and Winston.

Rhodes said more could be filed.

In a separate lawsuit, the Madison County Board of Supervisors has sued the Madison County circuit clerk and the local Republican and Democratic executive committees to extend the qualifying deadline for that county’s elections.

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