Judge moves Sumter school board election moved to Nov.
Published 4:15 pm Wednesday, April 4, 2018
By Beth Alston
AMERICUS — In mid-March, federal Judge Louis Sands of the U.S. District court, ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), representing Mathis Wright of Sumter County. Basically, the judge ruled that the current district configuration of the Sumter County Board of Education, five district seats and two at-large seats, violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In that decision, the judge wrote: “The Court finds, … that African Americans in Sumter County have less opportunity to elect candidates of their choice than do white citizens … the Court finds the following facts particularly compelling: (1) the incredibly high rates of polarized voting in races that pit an African American candidate against a white candidate; (2) the glaring lack of success for African American candidates running for county-wide office, both historically and recently, despite their plurality in voting-age population; (3) the undisputed history of discrimination in Sumter County and throughout Georgia; (4) the lingering effects of that discrimination today, including the comparatively low income and education levels and high rates of poverty for African Americans in Sumter County; and (5) the low rate of African American turn-out in these elections which — in the absence of evidence to the contrary — the Court attributes to the history of discrimination and the socioeconomic disparitities. Because of these factors, the elections for at-large seats do not give African Americans in Sumter County a meaningful opportunity to elect the candidates of their choice.”
This order followed a four-day bench trial in mid-December 2017, in which Mathis Wright Jr. contended that the current election plan’s two at-large seats and high concentration of African Americans in Districts 1 and 5 dilute the African American voting strength in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Then on Friday, March 30, Judge Sands issued another ruling: to move the May 22 Primary Election for school board members to the General Election on Nov. 6, and in the meantime to have the districts reconfigured again and to do away with the two at-large seats, while maintaining a seven-member board.
At this point, the candidates for the Sumter County Board of Education — District 1: Alice Green (incumbent), District 3: J.C. “Jim” Reid (incumbent) and District 5: Edith Green (incumbent) and Carolyn Hamilton — will have to wait until later in the year.
Read more in Part 2, in Saturday’s edition.