NAACP hails judge’s decision as ‘historic win-win’; new map creates district to ensure a minority candidate will be elected in Fayette
The switch to district voting for Fayette County Commission and Board of Education elections will prevent about 60 percent of Fayette voters from casting ballots in four local races during the May primary and the November general election.
Yet it is almost guaranteed to produce exactly what the NAACP asked for in its federal lawsuit: a black candidate being elected to both local governing bodies for the first time ever, representing the newly created majority-minority 5th District.
The interim result will be confusion for many voters, particularly those who live on the boundaries of district lines for the new map approved by the court Feb. 18. The districts cut across several voting precincts.
When qualifying starts next week, the local Democrat and Republican parties will have a fairly detailed large map they can use, and if there are questions about someone who appears to be on the fringe of a district, they can call the elections office, which can look up each parcel to determine which district they are in, according to county Elections Director Tom Sawyer.
The office will mail out precinct cards as soon as they can, though it might stretch into mid-April, Sawyer said.
“We are working really hard,” Sawyer said. “Trust me, the last thing I want to do is create a problem.”
In addition to the District 5 seats that will be up for grabs for the posts currently held by county Commissioner Allen McCarty and board of education member Leonard Presberg, also up for grabs will be the commission District 3 seat held by Steve Brown and the Post 4 BoE seat held by Bob Todd.
The ruling from U.S. District Judge Thomas C. Batten was hailed by the Fayette County NAACP as a “historic win-win” because Batten allowed the creation of a majority-minority district to remedy the NAACP’s complaint that at-large voting prevented a minority candidate from winning an election on a countywide basis.
District voting ties each post on both governing bodies to one specific geographic area of the county, and Judge Batten enacted his version of the district voting map last week, declaring it would be used for the 2014 and subsequent elections until the matter could be handled by the Georgia Legislature as required by state law.
What remains to be seen is whether the county commission will appeal the court’s decision, though it is not expected to prevent district voting from being executed this year. The commission is slated to discuss that matter in an executive session meeting in the near future.
The Post 4 and Post 5 seats for the board of education and the Post 3 and Post 5 county commission are up for election this year. Residents living in those districts as designed by the court will be able to vote in the May and November elections this year, but only for the district they reside in.
Voters living in other districts will not be able to vote for any commission or board of education candidates, yet they will be able to vote for the statewide offices up for grabs including the governor and lieutenant governor, state school superintendent, attorney general and more, along with various state legislative seats that must be decided as well.
Fayette County NAACP President John Jones called the court’s decision “a historic win-win for all Fayette County citizens.”
Jones noted that candidates in all five districts will benefit because they will only have to campaign within their district instead of on a countywide basis.
“So people of all races can celebrate this victory because every candidate will have a more equal opportunity to get elected to the county commission or school board,” Jones wrote in a press release.
The new map, in order to create the majority-minority 5th District, splits nine of the county’s 36 voting precincts. It stretches from an area of East Fayetteville into part of north Fayetteville, extending north into a significant chunk of unincorporated Fayette County before heading east and taking part of north Tyrone as well.
In the process, the new 1st District keeps the remaining edge of unincorporated Fayette County along the Fayette-Fulton County border while including the remainder of Tyrone and a sizable chunk of northeast Peachtree City along with part of the unincorporated county straddling Ga. Highway 54.
Batten in his Feb. 18 order noted that the shape of District 5 “is somewhat irregular” but argues such is not surprising “given the irregularity of the U.S. Census blocks that comprise it and the goal of creating a majority-minority district.”
“Consequently, neither the circumstantial nor the direct evidence in this case suggests that strict-scrutiny review is appropriate or that district 5 is an impermissible racial gerrymander,” Batten wrote.
Jones in the press release takes credit for the NAACP’s “all out effort to bring district voting to Fayette County.”
The NAACP contends that district voting will help Fayette overcome “proven patterns of racial bloc voting made worse by an at-large voting system.”
“With district voting, minorities residing in a geographically compact majority/minority district will now have the opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice,” the press release stated.