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Leah Aden Writes on Historic Fayette County, GA Elections

Friday, May 30, 2014

Leah Aden

Leah Aden, Assistant Counsel of the Political Participation Group, writes for American Constitution Society's blog about the historic district-based voting that recently took place in Fayette County, Georgia for the first time in the county's 191-year history.

Days after commemorating Brown, Black voters in Fayette County took to the polls during a primary election to elect their candidates of choice to the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education.

Until this election, Fayette County used at-large voting to maintain a racially segregated Board of Commissioners and Board of Education.

Despite the fact that Black voters comprise nearly 20 percent of Fayette County’s population; are geographically concentrated within the County; and consistently vote together to attempt to elect candidates of their choice, no Black candidate has ever been elected to either body under the at-large system of election.

The Battle for Equality Still Rages Sixty Years After Brown

When Black voters in Fayette County, Georgia took to the polls during a primary election earlier this month, they experienced, for the first time in the county’s 191-year history, the opportunity to elect their candidates of choice to the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education.

It is more than just serendipity that this election took place almost exactly 60 years to the day that our nation celebrated the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education on May 17, 1954. Brown ended legally enforced segregation in our country’s public schools and overturned the "separate but equal" doctrine that segregated all aspects of American society. The Brown decision also breathed life into the Civil Rights movement, which in turn led to the creation of the Voting Rights Acts of 1965, widely considered the movement’s greatest victory.

But for the voters of Fayette County, that victory was a long time coming. Prior to the historic election in May 2014, Fayette County used at-large voting to maintain a racially segregated Board of Commissioners and Board of Education. Although Black voters comprise nearly 20 percent of Fayette County’s population, are geographically concentrated within the County, and consistently vote together to attempt to elect candidates of their choice, no Black candidate has ever been elected to either body under the at-large system of election. Indeed, because Black-preferred candidates are not meaningfully supported by white voters, who comprise 70 percent of Fayette County’s population, those candidates cannot win a county-wide election under the at-large electoral scheme.

A Black candidate, for example, lost a Fayette County Board of Education election after receiving 99 percent of support from Black voters, but securing only 15 percent of the votes from white voters. In another election, three Republican candidates ran for a vacant seat on the Board of Commissioners, including two Black candidates and one white candidate. One of the Black candidates was an attorney and then vice-chairman of the Fayette County Republican party, and the other Black candidate was a certified public accountant. The white candidate, who was a political novice, but who ran to "preserve the heritage . . . in our county," was a mechanic. Two other Black Democratic candidates also ran in that election. In the end, the white candidate defeated all four Black candidates without a runoff.

To read the full story, click here.