Gwinnett elections division is hosting two poll official hiring events. File Photo
Photo: For the AJC
Photo: For the AJC

Groups threaten to stall Gwinnett’s elections over voting rights suit

Advocacy groups are asking a federal judge to schedule a trial next month to resolve their ongoing voting rights litigation with Gwinnett County — and they’re threatening to try and stall Gwinnett’s 2018 elections if it’s not.

An alliance led by the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials and the Georgia NAACP filed a lawsuit in August 2016 alleging that Gwinnett County’s commission and school board districts were drawn to dilute the influence of minority voters. The subsequent time has been full of legal wrangling by both sides and, earlier this month, Judge Amy Totenberg ordered them to issue a joint statement regarding their positions on a dozen key issues in the case.

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The statement was filed Tuesday and in it, GALEO and the NAACP ask the court to schedule a trial in April, ahead of primary elections scheduled for May 22. 

“... If that is not possible,” they wrote, “Plaintiffs request that the Court set a deadline for Plaintiffs to file a motion for preliminary injunction to enjoin Defendant Gwinnett County Board of Elections from holding elections in 2018 for County Commission and School Board seats under the current districting plans.”

A pair of Democratic candidates has qualified to run for each of the two Gwinnett commission seats that will be on ballots this fall. They will square off in their respective primaries before the victors face Republican incumbents in November’s general election.

Two school board seats are also up for grabs this fall. Multiple qualified candidates from both parties means primaries will be necessary in those races as well.

Two Democrats and two Republicans also qualified last week to run for each of two Gwinnett school board seats up for grabs this fall. 

Continuing to hold elections under the current commission and school board maps would mean continuing to violate the rights of minority voters, the advocacy groups argued. They have proposed redrawing the districts so each one includes a larger percentage of black, Latino and Asian voters. 

Gwinnett has never had a non-white member on its commission or school board.

The county  has refuted claims, however, that its commission and school board districts limit the voice of minorities, who make up more than half of the county’s population.  In Wednesday’s filing, the county called an April trial “not feasible for many reasons” — and said a possible injunction to stall upcoming elections would be “legally and equitably inappropriate.” 

A hearing in the case is currently scheduled for Friday.

In other Gwinnett news:

Officials say they support the message but cannot let students break the rules and walk out of class.

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