Judge denies voting appeal
A federal judge has denied a request to appeal his May 21 ruling to enact district voting for both the Fayette County Commission and the Fayette County Board of Education.
Attorneys representing the county had sought to appeal the matter to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals prior to final conclusion of the case. Their argument, however, did not pass muster with U.S. District Judge Timothy C. Batten, Sr.
Although Batten has ruled that Fayette’s at-large voting practice has been discriminatory toward black voters in the county and must be replaced by district voting, he has not yet declared which district map he will order to be used in the next elections.
Also pending is a request from the plaintiffs, including both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and several black residents, to hold a special election this November that would result in the potential ouster of at least one member each on the current board of education and county commission: those representatives who reside in what is being called “the fifth district.”
Batten has ruled that the discriminatory nature of the at-large voting process is such that black voters in the county qualify to have a special geographical district drawn to create a majority of voters whom are minorities to virtually guarantee that a black candidate is elected from that district.
The county’s current at-large method of electing county commissioners and board of education members allows all county residents to cast ballots for each of the five seats on both governing bodies. District voting, however, would limit residents to casting just one ballot for both governing bodies, depending solely on which geographical district they reside in.
District voting also stands to have a negative impact on all citizens’ ability to either start or sign a petition to recall any member of the county commission or board of education. Under district voting, such actions are allowed only if the elector resides in that geographic district, according to Georgia law.
In a 19-page order denying the county’s request for an “in progress” appeal of his May 21 ruling, Batten notes that the county has not proven that “partisan affiliation, not race, best explains the divergent voting patterns among minority and white citizens.”
The judge also finds fault with the county’s reasoning that an in-progress appeal would significantly advance resolution in the case.
In his May 21 order to enact district voting in Fayette County, Batten said the two main factors supporting the plaintiffs’ case were the lack of a black person being elected to the county commission or board of education, along with a record of racially polarized voting.
Judge Batten further outlines how simple requirements in the county’s voting system can be considered factors that discriminate against black voters when combined with an at-large voting system, such as: the staggering of terms, residency requirements for districts, the use of numbered posts and the requirement that each candidate gain a majority vote, not a plurality.
The judge also notes that the county is correct in asserting that the plaintiffs in the case have not claimed any specific instances in which they have been discriminated against.