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Long County redistricting ruled invalid

Officials hoping to avoid new elections

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POSTED: August 31, 2012 10:49 a.m.
Photo by Mike Riddle/

Attorney Jeff Arnold speaks to the Long County Board of Education on Tuesday about the recent ruling by the U.S. Department of Justice.

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Results from last month’s primary election in Long County may be invalid due to issues with district lines.
According to a letter sent to the Long County Commission and the Board of Education on Aug. 27 from the U.S. Department of Justice-Civil Rights Division, the proposed district lines, which were submitted to the Justice Department, have been rejected.  In the letter written by Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, Long County’s proposal did not show that the proposed changes would not have a discriminatory effect on the county. The letter also said the county is required to show this in its request under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  
With the Justice Department rejecting the county’s proposal, there is concern that the recent general primary election could come into question in the district races.
On Thursday, the commission and the Long County Board of Education called special meetings to discuss the matter.
At noon, the board met with its attorneys, Jeff Arnold and Drew Johnson, and  commission attorney Jay Swindell.  
Arnold told the board that, according to the Justice Department, deficiencies were found in the proposed redistricting plan submitted by the county and that as a result of these deficiencies the plan was “not acceptable.”  
Board member Florence Baggs asked Arnold if that meant the previous election was “null and void.”
“As it applies, yes,” Arnold said.
However, Arnold told the board that it has two options. One option was to redraw the district lines and run it through the legislature.
The second option was to work with the Justice Department to find an administrative resolution. After a lengthy discussion in executive session, the board returned and voted in favor of the second option.
Arnold said that the board would submit a request to the Justice Department to review the decision and ask that it reconsider the ruling.  He said that if the department would not reconsider, the board would ask if there is any way “administratively” that the ruling could be changed.  
Arnold said that with this consideration, the Justice Department could require one of many different options from redrawing the lines to bringing in a third party to oversee the redistricting process.  
Arnold said that, in addition to this, the board has filed suit in a federal court to have a district court review the matter and offer a possible solution.
“What is important for everyone to know is that the Long County Board of Education is proactively seeking the quickest way that they can to resolve this matter,” Arnold said.
With the possibility that the previous election could be ruled invalid,  two district BoE races would have to be voted on again.
Those races would be in District 2, where incumbent Dempsey Golden defeated challenger Dr. Carolyn Williamson, and in District 4, where challenger Janet Watford defeated incumbent Linda DeLoach.  
“We need to do what is legal if that means another election that’s fine with me, the citizens have spoken, but I don’t understand why we couldn’t just go back to the original district lines,” Watford said at the meeting. “What’s bad is that we were told by a member of the board of elections that the Department of Justice had approved the new lines after we qualified.”

 

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