NAACP’s district voting lawsuit may affect PTC, Tyrone
A federal lawsuit challenging the way elections are conducted for Fayette County’s board of commissioners and board of education could have a significant impact on next year’s election, and on voters in Peachtree City and Tyrone in particular.
That’s because a majority of both governing bodies will be up for grabs in 2012, with three of five seats to be filled by voters.
Currently, all Fayette County residents are able to vote on each seat for both boards. But the lawsuit filed last week hopes to change that into a system whereby residents will be able to vote on just one candidate for each board.
The suit, filed by the Fayette County branch and the Georgia state conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, claims that the current at-large voting system “has discriminatory effects on the voting strength of Fayette County’s black community” and violates section 2 of the federal Voting Rights act.
The lawsuit suggests that the concentration of black people eligible to vote is so high in the northeast portion of the county that a district could be created which would contain a majority black voting-age population. Doing so would, in theory, almost guarantee that a candidate supported by black voters would be elected to office.
Depending on the timing of a decision in the suit, the fate of six seats on the board of education and board of commissioners hangs in the balance, at least to some degree.
Seats up for election next year for the board of education are:
• The Post 1 district (currently held by Janet Smola) which encompasses north Peachtree City, nearly all of Tyrone and part of the northwest tip of Fayette County;
• The Post 3 district (currently held by Marion Key) which includes the remainder of Peachtree City; and
• The Post 2 district (currently held by Terri Smith) which includes most of the southern portion of the unincorporated county with a portion of southwest Fayetteville.
Should the NAACP prevail, it will result in a massive redrawing of the districts used in the races for the Fayette County Board of Commissioners. Currently, the county is broken up into three geographical districts with one commissioner representing each district, pursuant to a requirement that candidates running for posts 1, 2 and 3 be located specifically from that district.
The remaining two seats on the board are at-large seats, from which candidates can live anywhere in the county without being required to live in one of the three districts.
In the 2012 election, the commission posts up for election will be those for the three geographic districts:
• Post 1 (currently held by Robert Horgan) which runs from an area south of Fayetteville northward to include all of Fayetteville and the unincorporated area to the east and northeast;
• Post 2 (currently held by Herb Frady) which includes most of Peachtree City and the unincorporated area to its east, ranging northward into and beyond Tyrone along with the remainder of the northern unincorporated area of the county; and
• Post 3 (currently held by Lee Hearn) which encompasses the southern portion of Peachtree City and all of south unincorporated Fayette County.
The lawsuit claims that the current at-large voting system used for the county commission and the board of education “weakens the voting strength of minority voters, and consequently denies those voters an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.”
“Blacks in Fayette County have suffered and continue to suffer discrimination, including a history of neglect by unresponsive elected officials, and bear the effects of that discrimination today,” the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit claims that 11 individual plaintiffs listed have continually been unable to elect “candidates of their choice” to the county commission and board of education “despite the strong support and votes for those candidates from other black voters” in their community.
One of the plaintiffs is Emory Wilkerson, who ran for a county commission seat in 2006 but lost to political newcomer Robert Horgan.
Wilkerson, a Republican at the time, in 2004 ran for the District 74 seat in the Georgia House of Representatives, but he was defeated by incumbent Roberta Abdul-Salaam.
The lawsuit notes that no black person has ever been elected to the board of education or the county commission.
The only black person ever elected to office in Fayette County history was Magistrate Judge Charles Floyd, who won two elections after he was appointed to office in 2002, the lawsuit notes.
The suit was filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., represented by East Point attorney Wayne B. Kendall.