Judge to seek legislators’ redistricting experts for map
NAACP President suggests county ‘conspiracy’ to discriminate against black residents by ignoring pleas for district voting
The federal judge who will be adopting a new district map for countywide elections for the Fayette County Commission and the Fayette County Board of Education, perhaps as early as this November, plans to get expert help from state redistricting officials.
The new map is necessary to comply with a May 21 order from U.S. District Judge Timothy C. Batten forcing a switch in election formats for both governing bodies from at-large to district voting. Batten last week ordered attorneys for all parties in the lawsuit to have their say on his wish to appoint state redistricting officials as his “expert” to evaluate the proposed district maps.
The Fayette County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which filed the lawsuit along with several individual residents who are plaintiffs, has submitted a map that creates a majority-minority district that excludes all current board members in a bid to create a fifth district seat that has no incumbent. If the court were to adopt that map, conceivably one of the current five county commissioners and one of the five current board of education members would be removed from their post and, in effect, out of a job because their home was drawn out of the fifth district.
The switch to district voting means that residents will no longer have the ability to vote for all five seats on both the county commission and the board of education. Instead, residents will only be limited to voting for just one post on each board: the post which corresponds with the geographic district of the county they live in.
The county contends the map adopted by the court should be drawn to include incumbent commissioners in the fifth district. On the NAACP-submitted map, the fifth district lines come close to but exclude the homes owned by County Commissioner Allen McCarty and Board of Education members Leonard Presberg and Barry Marchman.
The NAACP argues that the incumbent-less fifth district is needed to prevent incumbents who would have “a material advantage” on election day as opposed to any challenger in a potential special election.
To resolve the impasse over the differences between the two maps, Judge Batten is proposing to appoint the Legislative and Congressional Office of the General Assembly for redistricting services.
“In reviewing the plans, the Court has determined that it is necessary to engage the services of an independent technical advisor to assist the court in evaluating the parties’ submissions and determine an appropriate remedial plan,” Batten wrote in an Aug. 6 order.
The new district map is necessary per Batten’s ruling to create a special district that has a majority of black voters. The NAACP has successfully argued that the special district is necessary as a remedy to the current at-large voting system.
The NAACP’s map creates a majority-minority district, labeled as the “fifth district” which stretches from an area north of Tyrone, capturing a large segment of north Fayette county and reaching into north and east Fayetteville.
The NAACP is seeking a special election this November, while the county commission is wanting the district voting to become effective at the next regular election cycle which would be next year. The county is already planning to host a countywide special election to poll voters on a proposed “core infrastructure” Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) for a period of two years.
In other news relating to the district voting suit, plaintiff John E. Jones, a president of the Fayette County NAACP, submitted a letter to The Citizen (Page A4) decrying the long-standing defense local officials have held for at large voting instead of district voting.
“So if there is no conspiracy to keep people of color off the county commission and school board, why vehemently resist changing to district voting?” Jones wrote.
Jones said that discrimination remains “a constant reality more often than not,” and claimed that county officials “have refused to voluntarily do anything to eliminate racial discrimination in Fayette County elections.”
“... With at-large voting, it has been proven that my vote and the votes of black residents in north Fayette County are illegally diluted by a biased group of voters in other parts of the county who have statistically proven they historically prefer any white candidate over a black candidate,” Jones wrote.
“Thus, the Voting Rights Act and Judge Batten’s 81-page decision in favor of district voting gives me the expectation that we in north Fayette County will soon be able to elect the candidate of our choice, whether that candidate be black, white or otherwise. Furthermore, shouldn’t there be people of color on the county commission and school board if we are to have diversity and inclusion in government? What is divisive about that? And if our county leaders were colorblind, wouldn’t they be able to understand that district voting is the fairest way to elect county commissioners and school board members?”
Jones also took a shot at black residents in Fayette County who are not willing to associate with the NAACP “because they may be too scared, apathetic or have been conditioned to not make waves or duped into conforming to the expectation that blacks should stay in our place and be subservient.”
“The NAACP owes it to any person of color to show everybody that standing up for our civil rights is not only our duty and obligation, it is the only way we will ever gain the dignity and respect we deserve as real Americans,” Jones wrote.