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Fayette school board settles voting lawsuit with NAACP

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Fayette County Board of Education has agreed to settle its part of an NAACP lawsuit challenging the county's voting process that the civil right group says has kept blacks from serving on the school board and county commission.

Under the consent decree adopted by the school board Monday night, candidates for school board will now be elected from five equally populated single-member districts. Unlike the previous at-large election method, which the NCAA charges acted as a structural wall of exclusion, each district will elect its own board members, which will provide a better opportunity for blacks to vote in candidates of their choice. The school board has redrawn its district lines to create the five districts.

District voting has long been favored by the federal voting rights act. Blacks comprise about 20 percent of Fayette County.

"The board felt the agreement that was reached was in the best interest of the school district and allowed it to move forward without the expense of litigation," said Phil Hartley, attorney for the school board. Under the decree, the school board must pay Hartley's costs and expenses which amount to about $5,000.

The consent decree will now go to a judge who must enter an order to instate district elections, Hartley said.

Neither the county commission nor the board of elections -- the remaining defendants -- have reached a conclusion in the lawsuit. Efforts to reach Strickland Brockington Lewis LLP, which is representing the county commission and board of elections, were unsuccessful.

"This is an important signal to the county commission that this is a lawsuit that can be settled amicably," said Ryan Haygood, director of political participation for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The defense fund is no longer part of the NAACP civil rights group but is representing the NAACP's Georgia State Conference and the Fayette NAACP chapter as well as 10 black Fayette County residents in the lawsuit.

Read the full story here.