Here is a recording of this call: http://dl2.newmediamill.net/media/lccr/GeorgiaVRAAPressCall6-23-2014.mp3
GEORGIA – On Monday, June 23 at 11:30 a.m. EDT, leaders and experts from the voting rights community will hold a press call to urge Congress to pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA) and discuss the continued discrimination against voters in the state. The Senate will hold the first congressional hearing on the VRAA just days later.
This press call will take place as the country approaches one year since the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which took away critical protections for Georgia voters. Call participants will also discuss current concerns around ongoing voter discrimination in Georgia and around the country, highlighted in a new Leadership Conference report that documents 15 instances of discrimination against Georgia’s minority voters since 2000. Click here to download the full report.
· Tanya Clay House, director of public policy for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
· Helen Butler, convener of the Coalition for the People’s Agenda [Atlanta]
· Francys Johnson, state president of the Georgia NAACP [Statesboro]
· Elizabeth Poythress, president of the League of Women Voters of Georgia [Atlanta]
· Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) [Atlanta]
WHEN: Monday, June 23 – 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. EDT
BACKGROUND MATERIAL: A snapshot of recent discrimination in voting in Georgia is below.
A Snapshot of Recent Discrimination in Voting in Georgia
Section 5 Objections:
- State of Georgia (2012) – In 2012, the state of Georgia passed statewide legislation that had the sole effect of changing the date for the non-partisan mayoral and commissioner elections for the consolidated government of Augusta-Richmond from November to July, a veiled effort to dilute minority voting strength. After analyzing the proposed plan under Section 5, DOJ concluded that moving Augusta-Richmond’s mayoral and commissioner elections from November to July would disproportionately impact the turnout of African-American voters. DOJ also concluded that there was evidence that Georgia’s actions in adopting this legislation were driven, in part, by a racially discriminatory purpose. In the wake of the Shelby decision, the Georgia secretary of state has announced that the 2014 election for Augusta-Richmond County will be held at the time of the primary rather than the November general election. NOTE: This case is also listed later in the report among 10 cases of concern since the Shelby decision was handed down, because the secretary of state’s actions.
- Long County and Long County School District (2012) – The county proposed redistricting plans for the board of commissioners and the board of education under which the Black voting age population of District 3 decreased by 6.7 percentage points, from 47.2 percent to 40.5 percent. DOJ determined that the plan would have caused African-American voters to experience an avoidable retrogression of their ability to elect candidates of their choice.
- Greene County and Greene County School District (2012) – The county proposed redistricting plans for the board of commissioners and the board of education that would have eliminated the ability of African-American voters to elect candidates of choice in two single-member districts.
- State of Georgia (2009) – The state proposed to establish a voter verification program for voter registration application data, including citizenship status, and changes to the voter registration application. However, the state’s procedures for verifying voter registration information did not produce accurate and reliable information and thousands of citizens who would be eligible to vote under Georgia law were flagged. The flawed system frequently subjected a disproportionate number of African-American, Asian, and Latino voters to additional and erroneous burdens on the right to register to vote. DOJ subsequently precleared a modified version of the program that resolved a Section 5 declaratory judgment action brought by Georgia in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
- Lowndes County (2009) – The proposed redistricting plan for the county commission would have added two single-member commissioner districts. Under the existing plan, African-American voters had the ability to elect a candidate of their choice in one of the three single-member districts in the county. Under the proposed plan, African Americans would have had the ability to elect a candidate of choice in only one out of five single-member districts. The plan, therefore, would have placed Black voters in a worse electoral position than under the benchmark plan.
- Randolph County (2006) – In January 2006, the three-member Randolph County Board of Registrars held a special meeting for the sole purpose of determining anew the proper voter registration location of Henry Cook, an African-American candidate for office from District 5. The all-White board of registrars voted unanimously to change the voter registration status of Cook and his family members from District 5, where more than 70 percent of the voters are African-American, to District 4, where more than 70 percent of the voters are White. In addition to the sequence of events being procedurally and substantively unusual, the board resurrected an issue that had been settled three years earlier by a judge in the Superior Court of Tift County, who ruled that Cook was eligible to vote and run for office in District 5. DOJ objected to this change.
- Marion County School District (2002) – The county proposed a redistricting plan that would have decreased the number of viable minority districts by one and, moreover, reduced the ability of Black voters to elect candidates of choice in an additional district. Due to the drop in the Black population, the proposed 2002 redistricting plan contained only two districts (as opposed to three in the benchmark plan) in which Black people were a majority of the voting age population. In one of the two remaining Black majority districts, the Black voting age population dropped to 50.7 percent. Given the pattern of racially polarized voting, the significant reduction in Black voting strength would have necessarily entailed a material reduction in the ability of Black voters to elect candidates of choice under the proposed plan.
- City of Albany (2002) – The city proposed a redistricting plan in which the Black population in Ward 4 would be reduced to 31 percent in spite of having steadily increased over the past two decades. In the 2000 Census, the ward’s Black population increased to nearly 51 percent only to be reduced by the proposed plan in order to forestall creation of a Black district. The reduction in the Black population was neither inevitable nor required by any constitutional legal imperative.
- Putnam County and Putnam County School District (2002) – The proposed redistricting plans for the Putnam County School District and the board of commissioners contained only one district in which Black persons would have been a majority of the voting age population. However, given the data from the 2000 Census, there were two districts under the 1982 benchmark plan in which Black people were at the time a majority of the voting age population. The Black percentage of the voting age population in proposed District 1 was cut almost in half by the proposed plan, while the Black percentage of the voting age population in proposed District 2 dropped slightly.
- City of Ashburn (2001) – The city proposed changes regarding the adoption of numbered posts for city councilmembers and majority-vote requirement for the election of city officers. The numbered posts method has the effect of frustrating single-shot voting; single-shot voting has often been used by Black voters to overcome the refusal of White voters to support candidates that the minority community supports. A majority-vote requirement also creates head-to-head contests between minority and White candidates; the imposition of such a requirement would have resulted in a runoff in which the White vote controlled the outcome of the election.
- City of Tignall (2000) – The city proposed to amend the city charter to change the method of election for the city council to numbered posts with staggered terms and a majority vote requirement. The proposed system would have eliminated the opportunity that minority voters had under the existing system to boost the effectiveness of their vote for their preferred candidate through single-shot voting. The imposition of numbered posts and a majority-vote requirement made more likely head-to-head contests between minority and White candidates where minority candidates would be more likely to lose than under the existing system with concurrent terms and a plurality voting requirement.
- Webster County School District (2000) – The process of developing a new redistricting plan was initiated after the school district elected a majority Black school board for the first time in 1996. The county proposed a redistricting plan for the Board of Education of Webster County that would have reduced the minority population in the three majority Black districts. Given that the voting patterns in Webster County appeared to be racially polarized, the reductions in minority voting strength raised serious doubt about whether minorities would continue to have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of choice in the districts with the reduced Black populations.
Other Voting Rights Act Violations:
- Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, et al. v. Fayette County Board of Commissioners, et al. (2013) – In 2013, a federal court struck down, as violative of Section 2, Fayette County’s at-large method of electing members to the county board of commissioners and board of education. The court found that although Black residents comprise 20 percent of Fayette County, are geographically concentrated in the county, and consistently vote together for board of commissioners and board of education candidates, no Black candidate has ever been elected to either of these boards in the county’s 191-year history. As a remedy for the violation, the court ordered that future elections be conducted under a district voting plan.
- United States v. Long County, GA (2006) – On February 8, 2006, the United States filed a complaint against Long County, Georgia under Section 2. The complaint alleged that Long County officials required 45 Latino residents whose right to vote had been challenged on the grounds that they were not U.S. citizens to attend a hearing and prove their citizenship, even though there was no evidence calling into question their citizenship and even though similarly situated non-Latinos were not required to do so. According to the complaint, the defendants’ conduct had the effect of denying Latino voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice. On February 10, 2006, the district court entered a consent decree that requires defendants to train their election officials and poll workers on federal law, to maintain uniform procedures for responding to voter challenges, and to notify Latino voters who were challenged that no evidence was presented to support the challenges against them and that they are free to vote.
Examples of post-Shelby Voting Changes of Concern
Because voting discrimination typically comes to light near major elections or right after the decennial census, we are only beginning to see examples of potentially discrimination voting changes post-Shelby. The following is a list of potentially discriminatory voting changes enacted since June 2013:
- State of Georgia –In the wake of the Shelby decision, the Georgia Secretary of State has announced that the 2014 election for Augusta-Richmond County will be held at the time of the primary rather than during the November general election, reinstating a plan that DOJ had objected to prior to Shelby on the grounds that it would disproportionately negatively impact the turnout of African-American voters. NOTE: This case is listed above in the pre-Shelby section as well.