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Board of Appeals turns back summary judgment in Wright v. Sumter Elections

By BETH ALSTON
beth.alston@americustimesrecorder.com
www.americustimesrecorder.com

AMERICUS — The long running lawsuit of Mathis Wright v. the Sumter County Board of Elections and Registration has taken another turn.
Wright filed his lawsuit in March 2014, to stop the Sumter County Board of Education elections on March 18 and May 20. His lawsuit says the school Board should not be changed from nine members to seven, and the districts should not be made to “mimic” the Sumter County Board of Commissioners’ districts nor should there be two at-large districts. It also says the current redistricting plan, originally passed into law in 2011, is a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) joined Wright in his action against the county.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued an opinion on July 28. After the District Court had determined that the undisputed facts and the law required a decision for the County without a trial, also called summary judgment, Wright appealed. The Eleventh Circuit determined that the District Court made credibility determinations that were not appropriate in the summary judgment stage and for that reason, reversed the District Court’s grant of summary judgment to the Sumter County Board of Elections and Registration.
The Sumter County Board of Elections had filed for summary judgement in January 2015.
The Sumter County Board of Commissioners issued the following statement late Friday afternoon.
“The Eleventh Circuit remanded the case back to the District Court for further proceedings, where the Plaintiff still has the burden of proof to show the challenged plan has a discriminatory intent or effect. We do not believe the Plaintiff will be able to meet this burden because there is no such intent or effect.”
Wright was contacted by the Americus Times-Recorder Tuesday, and gave the following statement.
“It’s back to where we started,” he said. “Round one, at the beginning. The burden of proof lies with me. The two at-large seats [on the Sumter County Board of Education] are in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
“They refused to let us do seven single-member districts. Someone on their side drew up seven districts. We used to have nine districts: three which were primarily white, and three primarily black. In the seventh one, it was like when [Kelvin] Pless defeated [Donna] Minich. It came down to who got the people to the polls
“We now go back to the District Court in Albany, for another discovery phase, and then a trial date.”