Judge declines to change voting in local Fayette County races

A federal judge declined Wednesday to accept a proposed map that would abandon a decades-long practice of at-large elections for the Fayette County Board of Education and replace it with individual district voting.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten's decision does not affect this year's elections but keeps alive a NAACP lawsuit that challenges Fayette's at-large elections to the school board as well at the Board of Commissioners, which the NAACP also sued.

The Board of Education and the NAACP had agreed on a settlement but Batten declined to accept the proposed consent order because the Board of Commissioners objected.

Consequently, all the voters in the county will have a say in elections for each of three Board of Education seats and each of the three County Commission seat on the ballots this summer and fall.

"A lot of candidates last week qualified under the old maps," said Ann Lewis, one of the lawyers representing the Board of Commissioners. "At this point, it's too late [to change the system]."

The NAACP lawsuit contends that at-large voting is illegal as it dilutes minority voting strength. The suit said that system continues in Fayette County only to prevent black voters from electing  candidates of “their choice.”

NAACP attorney Ryan Haygood said African American candidates cannot win in Fayette County "under the current plan."

In the county’s 190-year history, only one African American has held elected office -- Judge Charles Floyd, who was appointed to the Magistrate Court in 2002 and won subsequent retention elections and stayed on the bench until his death in 2010.

But, the suit said, every African-American who has run for the Board of Education or the Board of Commissioners has lost.