Fayette, NAACP agree to judge’s voting rights plan

Fayette County residents voting in the May primaries will elect candidates using a new voting system that is part of a federally-arranged solution reached between the county and the NAACP this week.

The county’s nearly 200-year-old at-large voting will be replaced by district voting that includes one district where the majority of voters are black.

The two sides essentially agreed to a plan set forth by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Batten. It calls for five voting districts, with one of those districts being majority black.

The NAACP, on behalf of a group of black Fayette residents in the county, sued the county several years ago saying Fayette’s at-large voting system kept blacks from being elected to the school board and county commission.

Batten ultimately agreed and, after the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement over a new districting map, handed down his own map based in part on county demographics. About 20 percent of Fayette’s population is black, with most black residents in the northern half of the county. Fayetteville, in the northeast, is 24 percent black while Tyrone, on the northwest border, is a third black.

“The court’s order is significant because it gives our clients the opportunity to elect their preferred candidate of choice to the board of commissioners and board of education,” said Ryan Haygood, director of the political participation group of the New York-based NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Haygood said Tuesday’s order “helps to ensure that going forward elections in Fayette County will be more democratic, more inclusive and more fair for all of Fayette County’s voters.”

While this week’s hearing allows county elections to proceed uninterrupted, the head of the county commission indicated the fight isn’t over. County officials still do not agree with what they consider to be a race-based district.

“We’re going to have to decide to continue an appeal. That’s yet to be determined,” Commission Chair Steve Brown told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Wednesday. “We’ll probably discuss that at our next meeting on Feb. 27.”