Fayette County, Georgia – On Tuesday, voters in District 5, a remedial majority-Black district, took to the polls in a special election to fill the seat vacated by the first Black County Commissioner, Pota Coston, elected in 2014 to represent District 5. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), congratulates Fayette County on a fair electoral outcome that affirms that district-based voting should be implemented as the method for electing candidates in all special and general elections for the County Commission and School Board in Fayette.
District-based voting is the result of an ongoing federal lawsuit waged by LDF and co-counsel, Neil Bradley, on behalf of 10 Black residents in Fayette County and the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP and Fayette County Branch of the NAACP and filed in August 2011. For nearly 20 years prior to this lawsuit, plaintiffs and others had advocated for district-based voting, but their efforts were rebuffed by the County and the Georgia Legislature. In a ruling on a preliminary injunction in August 2015, based on plaintiffs’ substantial likelihood of succeeding on their Voting Rights Act (VRA) claim at trial, a federal court ordered that this 2015 special election be held by district-based voting. Unfortunately, Fayette County officials still deny that district-based voting is the required method to ensure equal electoral opportunity for all residents under the VRA.
“Tuesday’s special election under district-based voting demonstrates, just like the 2014 district-based elections, that this electoral method ensures that Black voters can elect their preferred candidates to Fayette County governing bodies; the former method of election, at-large voting, dilutes Black voting strength in the County,” said Leah Aden, Assistant Counsel at LDF.
The election marked the second electoral season during which voters voted by districts, the result of more than four years of litigation by civil rights groups and millions of taxpayer dollars. With 70% of the vote, Charles Rousseau, the only Black candidate, who ran as a Democrat, resoundingly defeated two white candidates, who ran as Republicans. Rousseau becomes the second Black County Commissioner in the nearly two century history of the County. Despite his popularity, Rousseau and three other Black candidates lost their bids for office under an at-large electoral scheme in a 2006 special election that diluted the Black vote.
“This special election is indeed very special because it proves that district-based voting is the means by which Black voters in Fayette County can elect their preferred candidates to the County Commission and School Board,” said John E. Jones, President of the Fayette Branch of the NAACP. “Prior to district-based voting, no Black candidate had ever served on these important local bodies under at-large voting — when all voters in the County, which is majority-white, voted for all members of these bodies.”
In November 2015, LDF, representing plaintiffs, will advocate at trial that district-based voting be ordered for all future elections in Fayette County.
“The voters of Fayette County have spoken,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of LDF. “They have voted for diversity, equal representation, and an electoral process that affords them their statutory right to choose the candidate of their choice.”
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The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is not a part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) although LDF was founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. Since 1957, LDF has been a completely separate organization. Please refer to us in all media attributions as the “NAACP Legal Defense Fund” or “LDF”.