Cobb Board of Elections settles lawsuit over school board map

If the map is declared unconstitutional, it will be sent to the state Legislature to be redrawn, the settlement says.
The Cobb County School Board map could be redrawn after the Board of Elections opted to settle the lawsuit alleging the current map is discriminatory. (Photo provided)

Credit: Photo provided

Credit: Photo provided

The Cobb County School Board map could be redrawn after the Board of Elections opted to settle the lawsuit alleging the current map is discriminatory. (Photo provided)

The lawsuit over the disputed district map for the Cobb County Board of Education is one step closer to resolution after the Board of Elections opted to settle rather than defend the map in court.

The Board of Elections is the sole defendant in the ongoing lawsuit over the school board map. As part of the settlement agreement, the board will not argue against the plaintiff’s contention that the map is unconstitutional when that case is presented to a judge.

The plaintiffs will ask the court to give the state Legislature a chance to redraw the map ahead of the 2024 election cycle, if the judge determines it does not conform with the law, according to the settlement.

Four members of the school board are serving terms that will end in 2024: three Republicans and one Democrat.

A group of voting rights organizations sued the Board of Elections last year over the school board’s district map that was redrawn during the redistricting cycle that takes place every 10 years. The lawsuit alleged that the map — drawn by state lawmakers and approved by the school board — intentionally discriminates against communities of color by “packing” them into a small number of districts to dilute their voting power.

The school district later joined the case to defend its map. But in July, the federal judge cleared the school district of responsibility, removed it from the case, and advanced it against the elections board as the department responsible for implementing the map.

Tensions over the lawsuit heightened this week after attorneys for the school district issued a statement accusing the elections board of colluding with the plaintiffs — an allegation declared “patently false” by the Board of Elections Chairwoman Tori Silas.

“The Board of Elections, as a neutral administrator of elections, is not the proper party to defend the challenged redistricting maps,” Silas said in a statement. “The settlement allowed our board to maintain its position of neutrality in this political dispute and was the fiscally responsible thing to do.”

The Cobb School District and its attorneys have repeatedly called on the elections board to defend the map in court and admonished them for settling the case.

“This hasty settlement by the Elections Board, which they worked out in secrecy with their politically allied plaintiffs, is designed to avoid any legal effort to defend the current map,” the school district’s attorneys said in the statement.

The school board is the last elected governmental body in Cobb County that holds a Republican majority, marking the drastic political shift in the county after Democrats won several local races in 2020. Cobb had for decades been a Republican stronghold.

The Board of Elections is majority Democrat and is appointed by elected officials in the state Legislature, the County Commission, and by the county’s two political parties. Daniel White, the attorney for the elections board, said they have maintained a neutral stance since the outset of the case and were not in a position to defend a map they did not create.

“But when the school district starts using words like collusion, and accusing my client of working with one party to try to reach a predetermined outcome — they know that’s not true,” White said. “They lost in court, so they want to try to win ... the media spin battle.”

Several motions are still pending in court, White said, including a motion from the Board of Elections asking the judge to allow the school district back into the case to defend its map.

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