The jury remains out on the new district plan drafted by U.S. District Judge J. Randal Hall and released last week to plaintiffs and defendants in the federal case over Augusta-Richmond County voting districts.
“We don’t have a consensus from our plaintiffs yet about it, but we are reviewing it and analyzing it,” said Redan, Ga., attorney Jerry Wilson, “so we can get a real good idea of what it does.”
Laughlin McDonald, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, who is serving as co-counsel for plaintiffs in the suit, said Hall’s plan did appear to comply with the Voting Rights Act, redistributed population sufficiently to satisfy the one-person, one-vote requirement and paired no incumbents.
But the question remains, and attorneys had not received an answer yet, whether Hall could have drawn the map better, McDonald said Friday.
The plan creates five solidly black commission and school board districts and one “toss-up” district, where blacks are a majority, but not a large one, he said.
McDonald and Wilson said they’d have comments on the map by the deadline Hall set, 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Looking at percentages provided in the judge’s court order, Districts 1, 2, 4 and 5 have populations that are 69 percent or higher black or mixed-race. District 6’s black-mixed-race population is 54.26 percent, while its voting age population of black-mixed-race is just 50.22 percent.
Overall, according to the 2010 census, the city is 55.84 percent black or mixed-race and 51.97 percent black-mixed-race of voting age. Four percent of the population is Hispanic.
Hall’s plan also splits eight voting precincts – 101, 202, 401, 405, 602, 605, 805 and 806 – between two districts.
The splits include the Pepperidge subdivision, long situated in District 4 but divided in Hall’s plan between Districts 4 and 6.
Commissioner Corey Johnson said he’d warned residents of the Oglethorpe community that they are no longer in his District 2 under Hall’s plan. He also lost Apple Valley to District 1 but gained the Valley Park subdivision off Wrightsboro Road from District 5.
“Picking up Valley Park is huge because Valley Park is a pretty well-rounded community,” Johnson said.
Although the map is not finalized, knowing better where to campaign was somewhat of a relief to Augusta attorney Ed Enoch, who is seeking the District 3 commission seat held by Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles, who is term limited. Mary Fair Davis also is seeking the post.
Hall had to trim some 4,000 from District 3, which was overpopulated in the 2010 census, and moved to District 5 were parts of the Kingston subdivision and Augusta Mall.
“We’ve been running since January, and we didn’t know who we were going to represent,” Enoch said.
One thing parties on both sides appear to agree on is a request made by plaintiff Sammie Sias to reunite his Sand Ridge subdivision, located off Tobacco Road near Fort Gordon, into a single district.
Sand Ridge has been split between districts 4 and 8 since the last redistricting cycle, and Sias raised the issue repeatedly during local officials’ attempt at drawing a district map last year.
“The Sand Ridge community association will be greatly appreciative of any and all efforts by those who work to assist us in being reunited,” Sias said.
Both sides in the lawsuit even appear in agreement that Sand Ridge ought to be reunited.
“I would think that would probably be a request by the majority of the commission,” said District 7 Commissioner Jerry Brigham, who is term-limited but was among several commissioners who took issue with the locally developed plan – known as 3R – when it was presented to the Legislature for approval earlier this year. The plan, developed by a committee led by Commissioner Alvin Mason, created six districts that were 60 percent or more black-mixed-race.