Gwinnett officials want to skip the trial in a federal voting rights lawsuit that accuses the county of drawing district lines to dilute minority voting strength, arguing in a new motion that changing demographics render that complaint moot.
It’s yet to be seen if the motion — which asks for summary judgment in the nearly 2-year-old case involving how the county’s commission and school board districts are drawn — will have a legal leg to stand on. But it is in interesting argument in a county that indeed continues to diversify and to shift toward the Democratic Party.
The county voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, the first time it had gone for a Democrat in 40 years. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis also showed that Gwinnett voters cast 30 percent more Democratic ballots in 2018’s gubernatorial primaries than they did during the 2010 primaries, the largest such shift in the state.
“Any … claim that may have existed has now dissipated because of changing demographics,” the filing on behalf of Gwinnett’s school district argued.
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The original lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta in Aug. 2016, on behalf of the Georgia NAACP, the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials and several individual Gwinnett voters. It argues that the way Gwinnett’s commission and school board districts are drawn dilutes the influence of minority voters and their ability to elected “candidates of their choosing.”
No non-white candidate has ever been elected to either board, despite Gwinnett officially being a majority-minority community for nearly a decade. The suit argues that a “coalition” of Gwinnett’s black, Latino and Asian residents — which today make up more than 60 percent of the county’s population — should be treated as a single group with protections under the federal Voting Rights Act.
It proposes drawing new commission and school board districts so that each one better reflects Gwinnett’s demographic makeup as a whole.
The county and the school board have fought the case all along, trying to have it dismissed multiple times. They have argued that party leanings, not demographics, were responsible for previous defeats of local minority candidates — an assertion that experts working on behalf of the plaintiffs have refuted.
The motion submitted Monday does not back down from previous claims — but it also takes a slightly new tack.
It references the fact that almost 53 percent of the Gwinnett ballots cast in May’s gubernatorial primaries were Democratic ballots. The Democratic votes cast in local commission and school board primaries outnumbered those cast for Republican candidates by about the same margin, the motion says.
Essentially, the motion argues that the lawsuit is unnecessary because the issues presented are already starting to take care of themselves.
“[T]he percentage of voters who cast Democratic ballots has been increasing significantly in Gwinnett County in recent years, and minority Democratic candidates are now, and in the immediate future, likely to win offices that have been won by white Republicans in the past,” the motion said.
It continued: “Uncontradicted evidence in the record shows that past election defeats of several minority candidates in Gwinnett County, if run with updated demographics, would now produce electoral wins for those same candidates.”
A spokesperson for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which is helping litigate the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs, said the group was still reviewing the defendants’ new motion and not in a position to comment on it.
It was not immediately clear when Judge Amy Totenberg, who is presiding over the lawsuit, will rule on the new motion. A trial date also has not been scheduled.
Gwinnett will hold a handful of primary election runoffs later this month. Two seats apiece on the commission and school board are up for grabs in November.
All four seats have minority candidates vying for them.
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