ACLU Urges Department Of Justice To Object To Changes In County Board Elections In Georgia

October 13, 2009

Changes Would Dilute Minority Vote

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

ATLANTA – In a letter sent today to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the American Civil Liberties Union urged the DOJ to object to changes to election procedures for the Board of Commissioners in Telfair County, Georgia, because the changes would dilute the minority vote. Because of its history of discrimination against minority voters, Telfair County was required under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to submit the new procedures to the DOJ for federal review.

The proposed changes would alter the boundaries of two commissioner districts, reducing their minority populations, and implement an at-large election system for the chair of the board. Currently, the chair is elected by the commissioners who represent individual districts.

"Every American citizen has the right to participate equally in the political process," said Laughlin McDonald, Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "Unfortunately, racial discrimination and racially polarized voting have been major problems in Telfair County for years, and at-large elections and reducing the minority populations in districts would have a discriminatory impact on minority voters and dilute their vote."

In its comment letter to the DOJ, the ACLU points out that there is substantial evidence that the Georgia Legislature adopted the new election plans with a racially discriminatory purpose.

Prior to 2004, there had never been two black commissioners sitting simultaneously on the board, but two districts have recently been able to elect black candidates. The board's new election system, however, would reduce the minority population in those districts, making it more difficult for black voters to elect candidates of their choice. In addition, given the prevalence of racial bloc voting in the county, election of the chair of the board at-large would further dilute the black vote reducing the likelihood of a black commissioner ever serving as chair. 

"The changes to the board elections would have a retrogressive effect on minority voting strength in Telfair County," said McDonald. “It's clear that they don't meet the requirements of the Voting Rights Act. The DOJ should object to them." 

The ACLU letter outlines the long history of segregation and racial discrimination in Telfair County and the obstacles to voting minorities have faced there. In four cases spanning over two decades, the ACLU has represented black voters in Telfair County challenging discriminatory voting practices, including packing black voters into as few districts as possible to dilute their voting strength and failing to reapportion districts to correct for population inequality as well as other violations.

The ACLU's letter to the DOJ can found at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/minority/41277res20091013.html

More information about the ACLU Voting Rights Project can be found at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/index.html

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