NAACP election suspended over youth eligibility

November 29, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer

A Baltimore NAACP election has been suspended pending a court hearing on whether an insurgent group of youth members is eligible to vote.

Kobi Little, a 23-year-old candidate for president of the 3,300-member city branch, and three youth members who were declared ineligible to vote sued the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Friday for breach of contract.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman granted an injunction suspending the election, which originally was scheduled for yesterday, for 10 days while a hearing is scheduled on the case. No hearing date has been set.

Meanwhile, in a separate procedure, William H. Penn Sr., the national NAACP's director of branch and field services, put off the election indefinitely after meeting Sunday with Mr. Little; Rodney A. Orange, the president of the Baltimore branch, and other officials.

The dispute arose after Mr. Little, a protege of former NAACP Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., recruited about 500 youth members to join the Baltimore branch at annual dues of $3. They joined just in time to vote in the branch election.

But in an Oct. 21 memo, Mr. Penn said the national board had ruled that only youths 17 and over who had paid the $10 adult dues could vote in branch elections.

Turnouts in Baltimore branch elections are generally so low that if Mr. Little, former president of the Johns Hopkins University NAACP chapter, could have mobilized 500 supporters he would have stood an excellent chance of defeating Mr. Orange for the presidency.

Mr. Little says the NAACP constitution clearly states that youth ages 17 to 20 can vote in branch elections. He said it was "abhorrent" for the NAACP, an organization that has championed voting rights, to "disenfranchise" its youth members.

Former state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell III, whose grandmother bTC revived the Baltimore branch in 1935 and whose father was the NAACP's Washington lobbyist, signed an affidavit on Mr. Little's behalf that he had voted as a youth member in 1958-1960 Baltimore branch elections. Mr. Little, when asked if he would accept a compromise giving youth members a chance to pay adult dues in exchange for the right to vote, said such a deal would constitute a "poll tax."

Mr. Orange contends that it has long been NAACP policy that in branches with youth councils and college chapters, such as Baltimore, youth only vote if they pay adult dues. He said Mr. Mitchell's experience "doesn't square with anybody I've talked to."

The branch president called Mr. Little a "disgruntled Chavis supporter" who has shown little interest in the branch but now wants to take it over.

George N. Buntin Jr., the city branch's executive director, said "Kobi and the young people around him are not typical NAACP youth. Kobi is new to the NAACP in Baltimore. These youths' only interest in this is to come out and vote for Kobi. They have no other interest in the NAACP."

Mr. Orange said the branch election now probably won't be held until early next year.

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