Lonnie Randolph, the S.C. NAACP president, said Saturday the organization will present a proposal to its national office seeking approval and assistance to mount a legal challenge to Columbia's hastily called April 6 election for City Council's District 2 seat.
The NAACP executive board voted unanimously and plans to make the presentation to the national organization on Monday, Randolph said.
"To me, it's a simple issue. We want everybody to have a fair opportunity and a fair election," he said.
E.W. Cromartie, who held the seat for 27 years, resigned Tuesday. The next general election is 23 days away. Critics have urged the city to hold the election at a later date to give candidates and voters more time to learn about one another. City Council voted Wednesday to hold the election April 6, pending an opinion from the S.C. Attorney General's Office.
State and city law seem to contradict each other. On the one hand, state law says: "A vacancy in the office of mayor or council shall be filled for the remainder of the unexpired term at the next regular election or at a special election if the vacancy occurs one hundred eighty days or more prior to the next general election."
On the other hand, state law also says: "Public notice of the elections shall be given at least sixty days prior to such elections."
The American Civil Liberties Union also is studying a legal challenge to the election date, Laughlin McDonald, director of the Southern Regional ACLU in Atlanta, said Friday.
Randolph said the NAACP's umbrage with the election is about justice, fairness and equality for the majority-black district.
"It is based on color, and it's blatant discrimination," Randolph said of the city's decision. "It's more than unfair to District 2. It's unfair to the city of Columbia.
"If this was one of the at-large seats, we wouldn't be having this discussion."
On Friday, Mayor Bob Coble said he would welcome a lawsuit - just so the city could get some clarification from the court. He reiterated the statement Saturday when notified of the NAACP's intent.
"Because of the conflicting law, I think any type of authority - be it the Attorney General or a court - that can clarify it, in my view, would be a positive step," Coble said.
Filing for the seat vacated by Cromartie opens at noon Monday and closes at noon Friday.
If the election proceeds, Randolph said, candidates wouldn't have an opportunity to raise money and introduce themselves to the community.
"To some, cutting people short in certain communities is OK," he said. "The very people who are pushing to hold an election wouldn't want this if the shoe was on the other foot."