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Residents' suit attacks validity of voting lines

Monday, April 23, 2012 11:12 AM
Last updated Tuesday, April 24, 2012 1:28 AM
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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.


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

District2010 PopulationDeviation
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Little Lamb
Little Lamb 04/23/12 - 01:35 pm
Ms. McCord did not say, but

Ms. McCord did not say, but are we to assume that Augusta is footing the bills for both sides of this lawsuit? The city voted to file the lawsuit, and now it finds itself in the defendants' chair! Who is attorney for the plaintiffs? What is his fee structure? The city will no doubt pay dearly.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 04/23/12 - 01:39 pm
Hopefully, the city will

Hopefully, the city will plead no lo contendre and save attorneys fees on its side.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 04/23/12 - 10:56 pm
The numbers above indicate

The numbers above indicate that white folk are fleeing back into Augusta, but only into districts 3, 4, 7, and 8.

Go, Lori Davis. I hope you take the District 1 commission seat.

Countyman always talks about the excitement of the gentrification and growth in District 1. The above chart shows that District 1 lost the most population in the past year. What gives?

Riverman1 04/24/12 - 05:15 am
LL, interesting points, but

LL, interesting points, but why do you interpret the numbers to mean whites are coming back into the city? I don't think of District 3 and 4 as being areas whites would move into in greater numbers than blacks would. In addition, those percentages don't even necessarily mean more people are moving in.

The percentages only reflect the deviation from the ideal district, population wise. The deviations may have existed for quite a while or only gradually changed over the last decade. I wouldn't interpret it as whites moving back in because the 2010 census clearly showed the white population had decreased significantly over the last decade.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 04/24/12 - 07:59 am
The initial commission

The initial commission district lines were drawn up in that famous smoke-filled room at Don Grantham's offices and some of the participants were Grantham, ASU professor Ralph Walker, Robin Williams, and kingmaker Charles Walker (no relation to Ralph). The time would have been somewhere around 1996.

The lines were tweaked in 2001 after the results were released from the 2000 census, as required by law. At that time, the eight districts all had roughly the same population.

The results in the table above show that population has moved out of districts 1, 2, and 6; and population has moved into districts 3, 4, and 7. The tables reveal nothing about racial makeup; I just made assumptions.

Now the task at hand is to re-draw the eight districts such that they have roughly equal populations again.

Asking the federal court to do the drawing is a cop-out, but what else is new in Augusta government? Courts notoriously move slowly. One of the first things the judge will order the plaintiffs and defendants to do is to have conferences together with the intent of arriving at an amicable settlement. That will drag things out past the July elections.

Then, when it becomes apparent that there can be no settlement, the judge will have to appoint a panel of experts to re-draw the lines. The panel will have to meet and discuss things for a few days, then adjourn from time to time to attend to family and professional business. That will drag things out again.

In the end, sometime around November, the panell will present the results of their work, voilá, the same lines the paid consultant drew up several months ago!

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