Fayette to use countywide voting to fill district seat

Fayette County will hold a countywide election to fill the seat of the county’s first black commissioner who died recently.

An attorney with the NAACP, which is representing a group of black residents who are fighting the county over its elections process, called the decision “an affront to progress” made by last year’s district-voting election of Pota Coston as the first black commissioner in Fayette history.

The county board of elections voted 2-1 Tuesday night to conduct the election on Sept. 15 using at-large voting, despite a federal judge’s 2013 order that called for the county’s method of election to be changed to district voting. The use of district voting enabled voters last fall to elect Coston who died July 3 and was buried last weekend.

However, the district court ruling was overturned earlier this year by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals which sent the case back to the lower court for a trial. No trial date has been set yet.

Fayette’s dispute over its elections process 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.

“We’re going to fight this to the end. We’re going to fight for district voting,” said Leah Aden, assistant counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which is representing the Georgia State Conference of NAACP, the Fayette branch of NAACP and a group of black Fayette residents in their case against Fayette County.

“We’re considering all legal options, including a preliminary injunction that would stop the county from reverting to at-large voting,” Aden told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tuesday. “It would be in the public’s interest to have district-based voting. We’ll prove once again the at-large voting dilutes black vote and it’s discriminatory.”

The three-member board of elections panel made the decision Tuesday after listening nearly two hours to residents on both sides of the issue speak.

Essentially, 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.

The lawsuit over Fayette’s voting method did not deal with how to handle the replacement of a county official who dies in office.

“We’re now back to where we all started in 2011,” Oddo said.