Appeal cites ‘poor candidates’
In its federal appeal of a court ruling that enacted district voting in Fayette County, the county commission has a different take on the 2006 special election for a county commission seat that is central to the case.
That election saw local businessman Robert Horgan, the only white candidate in the race, defeat three black challengers in Emory Wilkerson, Malcolm Hughes and Charles Rousseau.
The NAACP and individual plaintiffs in the case claim it as evidence of racially polarized voting, key in its argument that at-large voting prevents black residents from “electing the candidate of their choice.”
The county in its appeal brief contends that Wilkerson, who was at the time vice chair of the local Republican party, suffered because he had previously run for office as a Democratic candidate ... and that Hughes and Rousseau failed at the polls because they “did not campaign or show up for events.”
Horgan, meanwhile, was endorsed by then-sheriff Randall Johnson, and Horgan also owned a small business and was “more qualified than the other candidates,” attorneys for the county said in a court filing on July 11.
The brief also notes that since the 2006 election, no black resident has qualified to run for a seat on the commission.
The judge’s February decision enacting district voting is being appealed to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, but this year’s election is being conducted using the court-ordered district voting plan and a new court-ordered district map, which created a fifth district consisting of a majority of minority voters to practically guarantee that a black candidate would win election to both the county commission and the board of education.
The NAACP and individual plaintiffs have held up the Horgan election as the main evidence showing racial disparity in voting patterns for county commission elections. In the original lawsuit, the NAACP argued that Horgan used a campaign slogan of maintaining the county’s “heritage” in a racial subtext.
The county also argues in its brief that the district voting map drawn by the NAACP used a a technique “that unlawfully used race as the predominate [sic] factor” and that minorities of different races were combined “even though there was no evidence of political cohesion.”
“Like the district court, the NAACP completely ignores the boundary segment analysis which shows that, without exception, every single precinct split on the illustrative plan was based on racial considerations,” county attorneys wrote.
The NAACP defends the map drawing process in its response brief.
The group’s map expert “split precincts to protect incumbents, which is a redistricting principle,” NAACP attorneys wrote. “... As the district court recognized, each of (the) precinct splits adhered to traditional redistricting principles.”
“Because elections in Fayette are characterized by racially polarized voting, as the board of commissioners concedes, any redistricting has to take race into account, in addition to the other traditional redistricting principles, both to establish the section 2 violation and develop a remedy in light of it,” NAACP attorneys wrote.
The county also contends that the black population in Fayette County is not large enough or geographically compact to allow creation of a majority-minority district which is the remedy sought by the NAACP and individual plaintiffs.
The NAACP notes that the court’s enacted map and the plaintiff’s illustrative map “compare favorably” to the maps submitted by the county commission.
The county also cites that no specific instances of discrimination have been alleged against the county to prove the NAACP’s case for district voting, but instead the lawsuit points to Georgia’s “indisputable history of de jure racial discrimination.”
The NAACP also claims that the use of numbered posts, residency requirements, staggered terms and a requirement to reach a majority vote all as ways the county “limits black residents’ political participation in Fayette.”
In its appeal brief, the NAACP argues that the court’s initial ruling granting summary judgment and enforcing district voting to replace at-large voting in the 2014 elections as legally valid. The plaintiffs are asking for the court’s ruling to be upheld.
The NAACP contends that black voters comprise 20 percent of the county’s voting age population and are politically cohesive, thus the at-large voting format “denies them the opportunity to participate equally in the political process and elect responsive elected officials.”