Judge calls for district election to fill vacant Fayette seat

A federal judge granted an injunction against Fayette County, requiring the county to use district voting to fill a vacant district seat created by the death of the county’s first black commissioner last month.

U.S. District judge Timothy C. Batten Sr. cited in his 36-page decision, the timing of the Sept. 15 special election and that Pota Coston was elected under district voting - a plan he ordered in 2013 - as his reasons for granting the preliminary injunction requested by the NAACP, which has been in three-year legal fight with Fayette over its electoral system.

“The court has determined that an injunction is appropriate,” Batten wrote. But he cautioned, “this is not a permanent injunction, and it should not be viewed by the parties as an indication that the court will necessarily rule in favor of plaintiffs at trial.”

Batten is set to hear the larger voting rights case in a trial, a decision rendered by the appeals court earlier this year. A trial date has not been set yet.

The NAACP went to court last month to stop Fayette from using at-large or countywide voting in the upcoming special election to fill the district seat left vacant by the death of Pota Coston, Fayette’s first black commissioner. Coston died July 3.

The 56-year-old Tyrone resident was elected last November using district election, the system ordered by Batten in 2013 to replace at-large voting, an electoral system Fayette had used for nearly two centuries.

The special-election dispute emerged when county officials said they had no choice but to use at-large voting for the Sept. 15 special election because local law requires at-large voting to be used for such elections. Batten’s 2013 ruling did not include provisions for which electoral process should be used for special elections. NAACP attorney Leah Arden contends district voting should be used to fill a district seat.

Meanwhile, district voting is in limbo as the larger voting rights case heads to trial. In January, the appeals court sent the case back to the lower court for a trial. The appeals judges were careful not to “disturb” the district court’s findings or the outcome of the November election but they want Batten to hear evidence in the case before making a final decision. A trial date has not been set yet.

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