Residents' suit attacks validity of voting lines

Nine Augusta residents have filed suit against the city and the Richmond County Board of Education alleging that the Augusta Commission and school board district lines are unconstitutional.

The suit, filed after Augusta legislators failed to agree on a new district map based on 2010 census data, seeks an injunction against using existing district lines.

It also asks the U.S. District Court to “draft and implement a new redistricting plan in time for the 2012 elections that complies with one person, one vote and sections 2 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act.”

Plaintiffs include District 3 residents K.B. Martin and A.J. Saunders. Martin, a member of a black pastors’ group, was part of a suit against the city last year alleging the commission overstepped its authority in delegating new powers to the city administrator.

That suit was dismissed.

Plaintiffs from District 4 are Charles N. Cody Sr., Bobby D. Harper, Sammie L. Sias, Kenneth L. Williams and Melvin Ivey, and from District 8 are Gail Hicks and Joe E. Howard.

All plaintiffs live in districts now overpopulated under existing lines because of population shifts taking place over the past decade.

The suit individually names as defendants Mayor Deke Copenhaver and school board President Alex Howard, although neither was involved in the local redistricting process.

Earlier this month, the school board and the commission voted to seek “federal intervention” in the redistricting process in part because elections for five commission and five school board posts were moved from November to July by the Legislature, although the date change remains subject to preclearance by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Sias ran unsuccessfully for the District 4 commission seat in 2010 and advocated for his Sand Ridge neighborhood to be united into one commission district before the local committee.

He said he joined the suit because he has questions and concerns about what the commission and school board is seeking.

“I don’t know what federal intervention is,” Sias said of the commission and school board requests. “They should have worked with the (local) process that failed. It had the opportunity to work more than once.”

Commissioner Alvin Mason, who led the local redistricting committee, posed a similar question on the agenda for a commission legal meeting Monday.

Mason, who was absent the day of the 9-0 vote, said he had “several questions” about the action.

Augusta Commission seeks federal intervention on new voting districts
No change in Augusta Commission, Richmond County school board voting districts
Commission vote on redistricting map fails
SIZE MATTERS

The districts’ current deviations from ideal size, as cited in the suit, are as follows:

District2010 PopulationDeviation
120,904-16.61%
222,335-10.91%
329,909+19.31%
428,273+12.78%
523,379-6.74%
623,096-7.87%
725,672+2.41%
826,981+7.63%
994,891-5.37%
10105,658+5.37%
Complaint filed in U.S. District Court (.pdf)

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