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Town of Pleasant Grove (Ala,) Makes History, Elects First Black City Councilors

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Pleasant Grove City Hall (Anna Beahm | abeahm@al.com)
By Anna Beahm | abeahm@al.com 

AL.com

Pleasant Grove voters on Tuesday elected three Black city councilors after having never elected a person of color before to city government in the city’s 83-year history.

According to unofficial election results, Kevin “K.D.” Dunn, Yolanda Lawson and Ray Lassiter are the first Black candidates elected to office in city history. This victory came after a legal struggle between the city and NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which resulted in the city changing its election method to cumulative voting.

Tuesday’s election was the first election to be held since the city changed its voting method. Previously, Pleasant Grove used at-large voting to elect both the mayor and city councilors.

The unofficial results of Tuesday’s election were:

Mayor:

  • Jerry Brasseale (incumbent) – 1,142
  • Robert A. Sellers – 1,102

City Council:

  • Yolanda Y. Lawson- 2,729
  • Philip Houston (incumbent) – 2,124
  • Ken Hatfield (incumbent) – 1,918
  • Kevin “K.D.” Dunn – 1,284
  • Ray Lassiter – 704
  • LaTanya D. Dunham – 695
  • Victoria Horn Hill – 659
  • Troy D. Johnson – 517
  • Rose Armstrong – 207

Results were posted to the city Facebook page. You can view the results here.

Videos from the polls show lines at the polls at 7 p.m. Pleasant Grove resident A. Faye Calhoun said she saw high turnout and waited more than 20 minutes to vote. In municipal elections, voter turnout is typically low.

Alabama Rep. Merika Coleman, who represents Pleasant Grove, also posted a tweet about voting lines. Her tweet reminded voters they can still cast their ballot as long as they are in line by 7 p.m.

“IF YOU ARE IN LINE BEFORE 7PM, YOU CAN STILL VOTE. Just had a situation in Pleasant Grove where the chief inspector told citizens that if you are not in the building by 7pm, you cannot vote which is WRONG. If you are in line, you can vote. Thanks John Merrill for clearly [sic] that up,” Coleman said in her tweet.

Deuel Ross, an NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney who represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, also commented on the lines extending outside polling places. He tweeted: “In Pleasant Grove AL now. Great to see people excited about new, fairer voting system created by @NAACP_LDF case & the likely election of 1st Black city councilors; awful that voters are forced to wait for hours & dangerously close in long lines in COVID-19 pandemic.”

In cumulative voting, each voter can cast as many as five votes total in city council elections, with the voter choosing whether to cast these five votes naming five different candidates, or divided among several or more candidates, or cumulatively all for one candidate. The five city council candidates with the most votes are elected.

While Tuesday’s election marks the first time a Black person has been elected to the council, there has been one Black city councilor. That person was Priscilla McWilliams, who was appointed to the council in 2014. She lost her campaign for election in 2016.

This story first appeared on www.al.com.