The new five-district map for the upcoming Fayette County Commission election might be back in play after all. A federal court judge signed a consent order Tuesday that gives the county another shot at having five population-balanced districts in place for the May qualifying period.
The matter may now proceed to seek approval from the U.S. Justice Department.
The order was filed to resolve a lawsuit from Peachtree City resident and former city attorney Rick Lindsey, who challenged the county’s current three district map, in which the smallest district has 17,847 people and the largest has 33,123 people.
Lindsey argued that the population imbalance was unconstitutional because it gave more voting strength to residents of the smaller districts.
The new map balances out the population with about 21,000 residents in each district. It also keeps the current at-large voting process for all five county commission seats, which is facing a legal challenge in a separate lawsuit filed by the Fayette County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The NAACP wants to force the county commission to replace at-large voting with district voting, which would restrict residents to voting for just one of the five commission seats, on the theory that would make it easier for black residents to elect a black candidate to the commission through the creation of a “majority-minority” district.
The county filed the five-district map with the Georgia legislature in mid-February, but Rep. Virgil Fludd, D-Tyrone, said the legal ad was published too late for the matter to be considered in time for approval in this legislative session.
The court’s order circumvents that process, meaning the county can seek approval of the new five-district map by the U.S. Justice Department. Officials are hoping to have the maps approved prior to the start of the qualifying period for candidates May 23-May 25.
The consent order rejuvenating the chances for the new map to be in place for the July election was signed by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy C. Batten Sr.
Three commission seats will be up for grabs this year for posts 1, 2 and 3.
Of the five districts, District 5 which stretches across the northern end of the county and dips partly into north Fayetteville would have the largest minority population at 47.2 percent. District 1, which includes the rest of Fayetteville and unincorporated area to the east would have a minority population of 31.59 percent.
The other three districts would have less than 10 percent minority population in each.
The new map was approved by the commission on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, in an effort to get the appropriate legislation introduced at the legislature. It was authorized on a a 3-1 vote, with Commissioners Lee Hearn, Robert Horgan and Herb Frady in favor and Commissioner Steve Brown voting against; Commissioner Allen McCarty was out of town.
The commission was roundly criticized by residents for giving just several day’s notice before voting on the new map, providing little time to digest the proposal. About a dozen residents weighed in at a public hearing before the commission voted to approve the new map.
The reasoning for the rush, county officials said, was to make sure the legislature had time to craft the legislation so it could be approved this session. But that effort fell apart within days, as Rep. Fludd, who chairs the local legislative delegation, noted that the public notice advertisement wasn’t filed in time.
Fludd, who has argued in favor of the NAACP’s stance on district voting, said the lack of legislative progress on the new map had nothing to do with his dislike of the county’s current at-large voting scheme.
The county’s current three-district map includes three geographic districts tied to one commission seat each. The other two commission seats are at-large, meaning that candidates can seek election no matter where they live in the county.
The new map will tie all five seats to a specific district, but voters will still be able to cast ballots in all five commission races, presuming the map is approved by the U.S. Justice Department.