Voting rights groups sue over Cobb school board map

A group of voting rights organizations say the new school board map in Cobb is discriminatory. (Photo provided)

Credit: Photo provided

Credit: Photo provided

A group of voting rights organizations say the new school board map in Cobb is discriminatory. (Photo provided)

A group of voting rights organizations is suing over the redrawn district map endorsed in a split vote by the Cobb County Board of Education late last year.

The map intentionally discriminates against communities of color by “packing” them into a small number of districts to dilute their voting power, the groups allege in the suit.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Atlanta on Thursday by a group led by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration and Cobb Elections Director Janine Eveler are named as defendants. The school board wasn’t named a defendant because it is not technically in charge of drawing or implementing the map, a spokesman for the law center said.

“Cobb County has rapidly grown more diverse over the last decade,” said Rahul Garabadu, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Georgia, in a news release. “But instead of celebrating this diversity, the Cobb County School Board has weaponized race to draw a map that purposely diminishes the voices of Black and Latinx voters. Our clients are taking Cobb County to court to fight for maps that represent the interests of all children.”

Eveler said she was unaware of the lawsuit and did not have an immediate comment.

The board endorsed the map in December. It was favored by the board’s four Republican members, who are white, and opposed by the three Democrats, who are Black.

The map put two incumbents — Democrats Jaha Howard and Charisse Davis — in the same district. Neither of them ran for reelection.

“I believe this map that you’re presenting today is very disruptive,” Davis told then-board chair Randy Scamihorn. “It is, in fact, not a fair map.”

The suit alleges the board’s white members used a “secretive map-drawing process to maintain their tenuous majority.”

The maps up for consideration were not available for public inspection prior to the meeting where the board voted.

The map was later approved by Georgia lawmakers. The lawsuit alleges that the Georgia Legislature bypassed the usual process, which would have required approval by the legislators who represent Cobb County, and instead moved it through the general legislation process.

Cobb County is the third-largest county in Georgia. Whites made up about 53% of Cobb’s population in 2019 — a number that’s been shrinking over the last decade.

Race has been a point of contention for the Cobb County Board of Education in recent years: The board was criticized for not renaming Wheeler and Walton high schools, which were named after a Confederate general and a man from a slave-owning family who signed the Declaration of Independence. It passed an early ban on the teaching of critical race theory in schools. It’s recently been accused by Campbell High School students of tolerating hate speech.

The map in question is in use for the current school board race. Republican Stephen M. George Jr. and Democrat Becky Sayler are still in the running for the District 2 seat. Incumbent Chastain is challenged by Democrat Catherine Pozniak in District 4. And in District 6, Democrat Nichelle Davis does not have a Republican challenger.

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