The Long County Commission voted Aug. 30 to request a review and reconsideration of the U.S. Department of Justice’s rejection of the county’s redistricting proposal.
According to commission Chairman Bobby Walker, the commission passed a resolution, 3-2, to request the justice department review its decision and reconsider approving the lines as they were submitted. Walker said they requested this so that results of the July 27 election would stand. However, he said that if the department rejects the appeal, a judge likely would be appointed to redraw the lines.
Three seats on the commission are affected by the DOJ’s ruling: District 1, where challenger Gerald Blocker defeated incumbent David Richardson; District 2, where challenger Robert Long defeated incumbent Wallace Shaw; and District 5, where challenger Dwight Gordon defeated incumbent Walker.
Shaw, Walker and Clifton DeLoach voted in favor of the resolution, while Richardson and Andy Fuller voted against it.
According to a letter dated Aug. 27 from Thomas Perez, who is a U.S. Department of Justice-assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, the proposal was rejected because a failure to show that it would not have a discriminatory effect on the county under required guidelines in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Though the decision affects all five districts in the county, District 3 is the only district mentioned in the letter. The letter contains the population breakdown and racial numbers from that district.
In an excerpt from the letter, Perez writes:
“We have concluded, however, that there is a sufficient level of consistent crossover voting by white persons in the benchmark district to provide black voters with the ability to elect their candidate of choice. Accordingly, under the benchmark plans, African-American voters have the ability to elect candidates of choices in District 3. Under the proposed plans, the black voting-age population of District 3 decreases by 6.7 percentage points, from 47.2 to 40.5 percent, and the total black population decreases by 5.3 percentage points from, from 47.1 to 41.8 percent. Due to this change, African American voters experience a retrogression of their ability to elect candidates of their choice. The evidence indicates that this retrogression was avoidable.”
According to Perez, because District 3’s lines expanded northeast in the eastern portion of the county without adding population to the southwest, a decrease in the African-American population occurred. He says that, had the lines expanded to the southwest, the African-American population would not have decreased.
DeLoach said the commission was in a no-win situation prior to the election.
“The lines were drastically out of line, and had we not acted, the election could have been overturned or challenged,” he said. “We passed the new lines because we felt that it was the better thing to do with the less chance of a problem arising. Unfortunately, that’s not the way things turned out.”
“All efforts were made to come in line with the ‘one person-one vote’ goal, we did not approve the lines, and our state representative passed it through legislature,” Walker said. “Now, the DOJ has turned it down, and all we can do is, hopefully, try to fix it.”