On Tuesday, May 22, a judicial opinion was released to the public after a federal court struck down Fayette County’s at-large method of electing members to the Fayette County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education as a violation of the Voting Rights Act.
In August 2011, a lawsuit was filed by the Georgia State Conference of NAACP at the federal courthouse in the city of Newnan.
The suit had claimed that the current at-large voting process “has discriminatory effects on the voting strength of Fayette County’s black community” and violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Section 2 contains a general prohibition on voting discrimination, enforced through federal district court litigation. Congress amended this section in 1982, prohibiting any voting practice or procedure that has a discriminatory result. The 1982 amendment provided that proof of intentional discrimination is not required. The provision focused instead on whether the electoral processes are equally accessible to minority voters. This section is permanent and does not require renewal.
The victory for the plaintiffs in Fayette would force the local commission and Board of Education to create new districts in which residents from that district will be limited to voting in just that district.
As of now, Fayette voters are able to vote for all members of the county commission and board of education, regardless of where they live in the county.
U.S. District Court Judge Timothy C. Batten, an appointee of President George W. Bush, issued an 81-page opinion in Georgia State Conference of NAACP v Fayette County Board of Commissioners, northern district, 3:11cv-123.
Here in Central Georgia, Houston County’s Board of Commissioners and its Board of Education are set up in a similar way.
Only one African-American — former Warner Robins educator Houston Porter— has ever been elected to the Houston County Board of Commissioners in its history.
“In 1980, when twenty percent of Houston County’s potential voters were black, only twenty percent of the voters were, and less than ten percent actually voted. Black Warner Robins educator Houston Porter overcame these odds to defeat a white commissioner from Perry in November 1980 for an at-large seat on the Houston County Commission.”
There are five members on the Houston County Board of Commissioners. They are elected at-large for four-year terms. The Chairman of the Board of Commissioners is a full-time, elected official charged with being the chief executive officer. The remaining four members serve on a part-time basis.
On the Houston County Board of Education, there are seven board members in which two seats are at-large.
Houston County has trended heavily toward conservative Republican incumbents and candidates over the past three decades, but Houston County’s minority population –African-American and Hispanic community– has slowly, but steadily grown as well.
According to the 2011 Census estimates there are 143,925 people in Houston County and 26 percent–according to the Census–is under 18. So that means that there are least 107,000 people in Houston County who are 18 and over or of voting age.
In November 2012, according to the Secretary of State website, it had stated that there were 79,915 registered voters in Houston County. So there are potentially 27,000 people who are at least 18 and over that are not registered.
Houston has a reputation for being a ‘conservative’ Republican county, but if more registration efforts are implemented, it can change the political dynamics of Houston County.
This would mean more Democrats could run for and win elected office–especially on the Houston County Board of Commissioners or even Warner Robins City Council.
President Barack Obama had an impact in bringing more Democrats to the polls, and there was a significant jump in registration from 2006 to 2008 in Houston County.
However, there are still thousands of unregistered voters–mostly younger voters black or brown voters who have never registered.
Obama got around 40 percent of the vote in Houston County in 2008 and 2012.
On a side note, Warner Robins, according to the Census has 68,000 people and is very close to becoming a majority-minority city for the first time. Right now, Warner Robins’ white (non-Hispanic community) is at 50 percent….African-American 37 percent, Hispanic 8 percent.
The city of Perry has minority population of 43 percent.The city of Centerville has a minority population of 33 percent.