Today, LDF Assistant Counsel Leah Aden will argue in United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia that Fayette County should hold fair elections for the open spot on the County Commission.
LDF is seeking to restrain Fayette County from re-implementing its discriminatory at-large method of electing members to the County Board of Commissioners and County Board of Education. At the hearing, LDF will argue that the at-large system dilutes the voting power of Black voters in Fayette in violation of the Voting Rights Act and, thus, should be prevented from implementing that method of election until the trial on the matter can be held. LDF also will urge the federal court to order Fayette County to hold the election by district-based voting—the remedial method of election that they seek after trial—to select a representative to succeed the late Commissioner Pota Coston. Under a district-based method of election, ordered by the federal court during this pending case, Black voters elected Pota Coston, the first-ever Black woman to the County Commission.
“This voting rights case shows that local elections are best served when communities can elect those who represent them and their interests,” says Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF President and Director-Counsel. “Much is at stake and preserving this victory for the residents of Fayette County is critical to upholding the ideals of and aspirations of our democratic institutions.”
Despite this progress, Fayette County continues to defend its racially discriminatory method of election and to impose on Fayette taxpayers the costs (so far estimated to exceed $1.5 million) of that defense.
LDF filed its 2011 case on behalf of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, the Fayette County NAACP, and 10 Black Fayette County voters. For nearly 20 years before the suit, Black voters in Fayette County had advocated for district-based voting without success.
On summary judgment, a federal district court ruled that Fayette County’s at-large method of election violated the Voting Rights Act because it provided less opportunity for Black voters to elect their candidates of choice. To remedy that Voting Right Act violation, the court ordered that district-based elections be held going forward, with one district in which Black voters make up the majority of the voting-age population.
The district court ruled that both local bodies used at-large voting as a structural wall of exclusion, which ensured that Black voters could not elect their candidates of choice. Indeed, although Black people make up 20 percent of the County’s population and are concentrated in the northern part of the County, no Black candidate had ever been elected to either body in the County’s nearly two-century history. At least 12 Black candidates (Republicans and Democrats) have sought office and lost.
The dispute over the manner of conducting the upcoming election follows a decision by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to remand the case back to the district court for trial to rule ultimately on the merits of the case. In so doing, the appellate court agreed that the substantial weight of the evidence weighed in favor of Plaintiffs’ challenge to at-large voting in Fayette County under the Voting Rights Act.
“When the voting structure changed in Fayette County to district-based elections, Black voters won their right to elect a representative of their choice to serve them on important local bodies in Fayette County,” says LDF Assistant Counsel Leah Aden. “We are urging the federal court to allow district-based voting for the open electoral seat in Fayette County to ensure that Black voters can continue have a voice in the decisions that impact their community.”
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the country’s first and foremost civil and human rights law firm. Founded in 1940 under the leadership of Thurgood Marshall, LDF’s mission has always been transformative: to achieve racial justice, equality, and an inclusive society. LDF’s victories established the foundations for the civil rights that all Americans enjoy today. In its first two decades alone, LDF undertook a coordinated legal assault against officially enforced public school segregation. This campaign culminated in Brown v. Board of Education, the unanimous landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1954 that overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine of legally sanctioned discrimination, widely known as Jim Crow.
LDF has been a separate organization from the NAACP since 1957. Please refer to us as “LDF.”