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Time running out for Nov. district vote change

Time is running short to call for a special mid-term election sought by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to replace one member each on the Fayette County Commission and the Fayette County Board of Education under a district voting format.

The general election, which will feature a countywide ballot on a proposed infrastructure sales tax and municipal elections in Tyrone, Peachtree City and Woolsey, is Nov. 5 with early voting starting Oct. 14.

County elections chief Tom Sawyer said absentee ballots were ordered Monday, which would make it challenging to accommodate a special election under a new district voting plan that will be adopted by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy C. Batten.

The holdup is that Batten has yet to rule whether he will approve the district map submitted by the NAACP and individual plaintiffs, a separate version submitted by the county or perhaps take the liberty to draw his own map. To assist him in the process, Judge Batten on Aug. 27 appointed the state’s redistricting office as an expert so he can sort through the various options available before he enters a final judgment on the map.

The new five-district map is necessary to comply with Batten’s order for Fayette County to switch to a district voting system to allow black residents the chance to elect “the candidate of their choosing” to the county commission and board of education. The maps will create five districts, with a specially-drawn district designed to have a majority of black registered voters to virtually guarantee that a black candidate can win election to both governing bodies.

The NAACP has referred to this majority-minority district as the “fifth” district and its map has been drawn to remove incumbent office-holders from the fifth district on the theory that any new candidate from the fifth district should not have to run against an incumbent because of the incumbent’s natural advantage in a given campaign.

Under district voting, all Fayette voters will be restricted to voting for just one candidate for the county commission and the board of education, and they will vote only for the post which corresponds to the geographic district in which they live. That’s a pretty significant change from the county’s previous at-large voting system, which allowed voters to cast ballots for all five seats on both governing bodies, regardless of where they lived.

Conversely, voters who become unsatisfied with any of the other four members of the county commission or the board of education will be unable to start or sign a recall petition seeking their removal from office. Under Georgia law, voters are limited to initiating or signing a recall petition only for a person whom is in their district, rendering the other four commissioners and board of education members untouchable from a recall petition from roughly 80 percent of Fayette voters.

Batten ruled in May that the county’s at-large voting method was discriminatory against black voters. The county’s population of black residents has soared past the 20 percent mark according to the 2010 Census.

The county commission fought the federal lawsuit, arguing in part that black residents were not geographically compact enough to form a special majority-minority district. Batten’s May ruling in essence negated that argument and claimed that the county’s track record of never electing a black resident to the commission or the board of education was a solid indication that at-large voting was indeed discriminatory.

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