Tuesday’s decision comes as the county’s ongoing battle over its voting system heats up with renewed animus.
In January, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal overturned U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten’s 2013 order that called for the Fayette to move to district voting because at-large voting violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The appeals court sent the case back to the lower court for a trial. A trial date has not been set.
The appeals court noted Batten arrived at his conclusion against the Fayette Board of Commissioners based on court filings and witness statements given in pre-trial deposition testimony. The appeal court ruled Batten should have resolved the case after a trial that included live testimony.
Fayette’s voting rights dispute began in 2011 after a group of black residents and the NAACP sued the county saying at-large voting kept blacks from being able to get elected to the county commission and school board by diluting the black vote. Blacks comprise 20 percent of Fayette’s population.
The three-member board of elections made the decision Tuesday after listening to residents on both sides of the issue speak.
The board of elections was bound by local law to use at-large voting when dealing with special elections, county attorney Dennis Davenport told the elections board shortly before it voted. Darryl Hicks, the lone black on the elections board, voted against the measure.
“There was really no choice because there are no options out there right now. The appeals court sent the case back to the lower court for a trial to hear evidence in the case,” Fayette Commission Chairman Charles Oddo told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Neither the lawsuit nor Batten’s 2013 ruling deals with how to handle the replacement of a county official who dies in office. Coston was buried last week after a bout with cancer, six months after taking office.
“We’re now back to where we all started in 2011,” Oddo said.