Fayette set to make political history Tuesday


August 2011: NAACP sues Fayette County, the school board and the elections office, alleging the county’s at-large voting system is discriminatory.

May 21, 2013: Federal judge Timothy Batten tells Fayette to end at-large voting.

Aug. 2013: Experts help redraw Fayette voting lines.

February 2014: Fayette and NAACP agree to judge’s plan.

March 19, 2014: Fayette challenges federal order on voting system.

Dec. 10, 2014: Fayette and NAACP attorneys take their case before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In Fayette County’s first contested commission race since the court-ordered end of at-large voting, a Republican incumbent will face a candidate who narrowly lost an election for Tyrone City Council a year ago.

Democratic challenger Pota Coston is running against Republican incumbent Allen McCarty for the commission seat in newly created District 5.

District voting is part of a federally arranged solution handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Batten. The new system is a result of a lawsuit filed several years ago by the NAACP on behalf of a group of residents in Fayette County, who argued that at-large voting diluted black voting strength. One in five residents in Fayette County is black.

District 5 is a predominantly black district. Coston is black. McCarty is white.

Coston twice ran unsuccessfully for Tyrone City Council. In the last election, she lost by six votes.

Coston is a consultant for a youth leadership development group and worked for 29 years in federal law enforcement. As commissioner, she has said, she wants to bring in more jobs, work closely with the school district and focus on public safety.

If re-elected, McCarty, who has served four years, said he will continue to focus on a balanced budget, lower taxes and bringing in jobs that will keep young people in the county. He is retired from construction and the broadcasting business.

Should voters elect Coston, she will be the first black person elected to the Fayette County Board of Commissioners in the county's nearly 200-year-old history.

In the past, some candidates in Fayette County had to run countywide for seats on the county commission and school board. That made it harder for black candidates to be elected, the NAACP argued. Batten ultimately agreed.

“Obviously It’s something long overdue. At-large voting is a relic of the past,” said political observer Robert A. “Bob” Holmes, retired distinguished professor of political science at Clark Atlanta University. “We know from the long history that at-large voting has kept minorities from having representation on various political bodies: school boards, county commissions and city councils.”

Fayette leaders have appealed Batten’s decision, saying the county of about 110,000 is not big enough yet to support district voting.

Attorneys for Fayette county and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund will go before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Dec. 10.

In the meantime, attorneys for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund will be in Fayette County on Tuesday. They will monitor the election process, particularly in District 5, and talk to residents about their experience with the new system.

"We'll see how it goes," Commission Chair Steve Brown said. "Whoever wins, we'll certainly work with that person."

Coston isn’t the only black candidate running in Tuesday’s election in Fayette County. Democrat Ogechi Oparah, a 2013 graduate of Princeton University and a consultant with Amadi Leadership Associates, is running for the District 4 school board seat. She is black. Her opponent is Republican Diane Basham, a retired Fayette school teacher.

In other races: Republican challenger Dean B. Dunton is up against incumbent Leonard Presberg, a Democrat, for the District 5 school board seat. On the commission, Chairman Steve Brown is running unopposed in District 3.