Plaintiffs claim victory in voting-rights lawsuit in rural Georgia

Plaintiffs claim victory in voting-rights lawsuit in rural Georgia

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"Democracy extends well beyond the doors of the White House,” Kristen Clarke. president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said Friday. (Photo: Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law)

To settle a federal lawsuit, Emanuel County, Ga. will re-draw its school district map to create an additional school district comprised primarily of black voters.

WASHINGTON – A rural Georgia county’s electoral map will be re-drawn to create an additional school district comprised primarily of black voters, the Lawyers’ Committee to Protect Civil Rights Under Law victoriously announced Friday.

A federal lawsuit filed by the Lawyers’ Committee on behalf of the Georgia NAACP and two black voters alleged that Emanuel County’s electoral map violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

“The map dilutes the voting strength of African-Americans in the county,” Kristen Clarke, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee, said in a news conference call.

Only one school district in the county is comprised mostly of black voters – even though about one-third of the county’s total population is black and 43 percent of the school district’s students are black. That lone district’s population is 81 percent black, and blacks comprise a minority in the other districts.

“Black voters are packed into a single district,” Clarke said.

There has never been more than one black member on the seven-member school board at any given time, she said.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the electoral map for Emanuel County will be re-drawn so that two districts will be predominantly black.

The plaintiffs’ co-counsel Robert Helfand, of the law firm of Carlton Fields, said the county was “extremely cooperative after our complaint was filed” in February. “Our complaints did not make any allegation of intentional discrimination,” he emphasized.

Any redistricting requires approval by the Georgia Assembly and the settlement agreement calls for the school board to pass a resolution and work with lawmakers to approve the new map.

“Today’s victory helps ensure that African-American voters in Emanuel County, Georgia will be provided a fair opportunity to elect candidates of their choice to the local school board. We will continue to use the Voting Rights Act as a tool to combat voting discrimination and to achieve fairer and more democratic outcomes across our country,” Clarke said.

The defendants in the lawsuit included Emanuel County’s Board of Commissioners, school board, school district and board of elections.

“This settlement represents progress in making real the promises of America’s democracy even in very rural places like Emanuel County, Georgia,” said attorney Francys Johnson, president of the Georgia NAACP.

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