PEMBROKE — The five-member Lumbee Supreme Court on Monday ruled unanimously that the process used by the Lumbee Tribal Council to establish new voting districts was flawed and that the former 14 voting districts should be used in the next election for Tribal Council members.
The impact of the decision is immediately being felt. The council election scheduled for Nov. 15 will be delayed until at least sometime in December, according to Sheila Beck-Jones, chairman of the tribe’s elections board. Filing for the election concluded Friday, and will need to be redone.
“Basically we have to set a whole new election. We have to go back to scratch,” Beck-Jones told the justices Monday. “…We have to start the whole election process over again.”
On Monday, the justices held a hearing on a petition filed by Lamari Louise Mitchell, a former member of the council, on behalf of the newly-formed Lumbee Community Involvement and Engagement Group. The petition called for an injunction against the new 21-district map being used in the scheduled Nov. 15 election.
Justice Matthew Scott announced the decision of the court after the five justices met for 20 minutes behind closed doors. He commended the current members of the Tribal council for trying to come up with a redistricting plan as mandated by the tribe’s constitution. Although redistricting was supposed to take place in 2011, within one year of the last U.S. Census, no redistricting had taken place until late last month.
“You did do what other councils did not,” Scott said. “Other councils did not adhere to their constitutional duty.”
The petition, which cited several cases where the Tribal Council allegedly violated the Lumbee Constitution, called for the process of creating new voting districts to use the “one-man, one-vote” concept based on the actual number of enrolled Lumbee tribal members eligible to vote, rather than based upon the total number of people who identify themselves in the U.S. Census as American Indians. Lumbees and other specific tribes are not identified individually in federal Census data.
The new districts, introduced by the council only a few days before the beginning of the Nov. 15 candidacy filing period began at the end of August, called for the creation of 21 districts with 3,099 people included in each district.
Much of Monday’s hearing centered around how to identify just Lumbee voters and what computer software, if any, is available to locate them on maps in their proper districts.
In his announcement of the court’s ruling, Scott said that the Supreme Court, tribal administration, and council will work together to come up with a redistricting plan that will be administered following the 2020 Census.
“If we keep doing the same thing, we are never going to get any better and move forward,” Scott said.
The Lumbee Community Involvement and Engagement Group also alleged that the Tribal Council had violated a number of constitutional mandates in the process they followed to draw the new district lines. Included in their charges was that the council created and moved ahead with implementing new districts without proper notification and involvement in the process by the tribal membership.
Councilwoman Anita Hammonds Blanks defended the council’s process for creating the districts using federal census data.
“Our own documents show that we use census data to show who is eligible for tribal membership,” she said. “The number of people we have determines how much federal funding we receive. That’s also determined by census data.
“… The big thing is that we have equal representation,” she said. “… This Tribal Council stood up and took on the challenge of redistricting.”
Bill James Brewington, the council’s speaker, agreed.
“But the court has spoken,” he said.
Mitchell, who previously served as chairman of the council’s Constitution and Ordinance Committee, said she believes the court made the decision that is in the best interest of all of the Lumbee people.
“I agree with the court’s decision that we need to go back and identify those in the districts who are members of the Lumbee community,” she said.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.