NAACP: ‘Keep incumbents out of our voting district’
Group makes case for special election this November 2013
Attorneys representing the Fayette County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People contend there is plenty of time for county elections officials to prepare for a special election this November for a newly-created majority-minority fifth district.
In addition, the group wants to bar current office holders from competing in the new district.
Such an election would allow voters only in that district to select a new member to both the Fayette County Commission and the Fayette County Board of Education.
There’s a catch, however: a federal judge presiding over the lawsuit has yet to choose a final district map for the county.
U.S. District Judge Timothy C. Batten on May 21 ordered a change from at-large to district voting for elections to both the Fayette County Commission and the Fayette County Board of Education. The change means that voters will no longer be able to cast ballots on all five seats on both governing bodies; rather they will be limited to voting only for the post that is linked to the specific geographic district in which they live.
The NAACP successfully argued that the current at-large voting format is tantamount to racial discrimination, particularly since no black candidate has ever been elected to a post on either governing body.
The theory is that with a specially-drawn district that packs a majority of minority voters, a black candidate stands a better chance of being elected to office as either a county commissioner or a member of the board of education.
In court filings Monday, the NAACP contends there is no reason to delay a special election this November in the fifth district.
The district map proposed by the NAACP creates a fifth district with no incumbent candidates for the county commission or board of education, as it puts county commission members Allen McCarty and David Barlow in the same 1st district. Likewise, the NAACP map puts BoE members Leonard Presberg and Barry Marchman in the same 1st district.
In a July 29 court filing, the NAACP argues that if a new district map allowed incumbents to be part of the majority-minority fifth district, those incumbents would have “a material advantage” on election day.
“Placing an incumbent in the remedial district will essentially reward a member of the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education who was elected under a method of election that has been found to violate federal law, thereby providing plaintiffs a less than complete remedy,” NAACP attorneys wrote in the July 29 brief.
While Judge Batten holds the power to determine which map shall be enacted, and he may also order a special election in November, the NAACP’s brief is silent on how the court should determine which member should be removed from the board of education and the county commission to account for how the NAACP’s map drew two members of each board into the first district.
Because the county plans to hold a special election this November for a proposed infrastructure sales tax, there is an opportunity for the court to order a special election for District 5 to be held at the same time, NAACP attorneys argue.
The district map proposed by the county commission would put two existing board of education members in the southern district 3: board Chair Marion Key and board member Mary Kay Bacallao.
The map proposed by the NAACP splits 11 existing precincts, while the map pitched by the county split 12 current precincts.
While the county has asked for time to allow the Georgia Legislature to address the redistricting process, the NAACP’s legal brief notes that such efforts have already failed twice.
Attorneys for the county have asked for an evidentiary hearing prior to the court deciding which district map to enact. The NAACP contends that while the court could conduct such a hearing, it is not required to and moreover there is plenty of evidence already on the record from both sides in the case.
As to how long it would take county elections officials to prepare for a newly-drawn fifth district, the NAACP’s demographer and redistrict expert says he was able to accomplish nearly all of the work on a computer in less than one day. Demographer William S. Cooper said in a declaration to the court that he would be glad to share his work with the county.
The NAACP has complained about the county commission’s willingness to fight the lawsuit at the cost of county taxpayers, with the county’s legal costs soaring past the $300,000 mark; the NAACP has not publicly announced how much it has spent on the lawsuit, an amount the county may ultimately also have to pay.