Rapson: Fayette ready for district voting changes
Qualifying starts in three short weeks for two seats on both the county commission and board of education, but the short time frame is not expected to cause a problem for district voting to be implemented in Fayette County this year, according to County Administrator Steve Rapson.
Elections staff will have to manually look up a candidate’s address to confirm they live in the appropriate new district, Rapson said.
A new voting district map could be approved as early as next week, as the federal judge in the district voting case will conduct a Feb. 18 hearing on the court-proposed map.
Whenever the new map is approved, the Fayette County elections office will have time to make the necessary adjustments to ensure the new district map is applied for the primary election, Rapson said. Early voting will start in that primary on April 28.
There will be some significant adjustments to make, as nine existing precincts will be split in two if the court’s map is adopted. Affected are the Blackrock, Fayetteville East, Hopeful, Morning Creek, Sandy Creek, Whitewater, Aberdeen, Oak Ridge and Jeff Davis precincts.
The new map is necessary to create a majority-minority district that comprises a majority of black voters in order to virtually guarantee that a black person will win election. In this case, that district is considered the fifth district, which will be up for grabs this May in the primary and in the November general election.
Under district voting, Fayette electors will no longer have the luxury of casting a ballot for all five representatives of the Fayette County Commission and the Fayette County Board of Education. Instead, voters will be limited to selecting just one of the five representatives based on which district the voter lives in.
U.S. District Judge Timothy C. Batten last May struck down the county’s at-large voting, agreeing with the NAACP and several individual plaintiffs that the elections format prevented black residents from electing “the candidate of their choice.” In his order, Batten noted that no black resident had ever been elected to the county commission or board of education.
The NAACP brought the suit under the federal Voting Rights Act. The group asked Judge Batten to draw the map to exclude incumbent district 5 officeholders: Leonard Presberg on the board of education and Allen McCarty on the county commission. The map proposed by the judge, created with help from the state legislature’s redistricting office, keeps Presberg and McCarty in the fifth district.
District voting is sure to change voting habits for every county resident. For the county commission and board of education posts, they will only be allowed to vote once every four years, whereas under at-large voting they could vote every two years.
District voting will also make it more challenging to recall a wayward elected official, as four-fifths of the county would be ineligible from starting the recall process or even voting in a recall election.