A pending lawsuit challenging the election date of Augusta races has been put on the fast track.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall issued an order setting dates for the opposing sides to file briefs.
“Due to the urgent nature of this case the court finds it necessary to set an expedited briefing schedule,” Hall wrote.
The election of the mayor and Augusta Commission for Districts 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 is May 20.
Absentee voting has been underway for several weeks, and early voting begins Monday.
Attorneys representing Augusta’s mayor and commission have until 5 p.m. April 30 to respond to the complaint, which seeks an injunction, and to the plaintiffs’ request for a three-judge panel to hear their challenge to the election date.
The plaintiffs will have until 5 p.m. May 5 to reply.
Although no ruling is anticipated before early voting starts, it will still begin as required by state law, said Lynn Bailey, the executive director of the Richmond County Board of Elections.
“We, of course, have no way of knowing what the future may hold. In the meantime, we have a very large, important election with many federal, state and local offices and questions on the ballot,” Bailey wrote Tuesday in an e-mail.
The lawsuit pertains only to the races for the local elected positions.
Ballots are not tabulated until the polls close at 7 p.m. May 20, Bailey wrote.
The lawsuit was filed Friday on behalf of Augusta residents Rep. Henry Howard, Rep. Earnest Smith, Rep. Gloria Frazier, Thomas Walker, Kenneth Martin, commission candidate Melvin Ivey and Albert Robinson Jr. The suit contends the decision to move the local elections from the November general election ballot to the May 20 statewide primary violates the Voting Rights Act.
The suit cites the findings of the U.S. Department of Justice in December 2012. Justice opposed the election date change, contending it will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote.
The Justice review of voter turnout found that in 2012 and in 2010, more people turned out for the November elections than the July elections. For black registered voters, the numbers were significantly lower – 74.5 percent in November 2012, compared with 33.2 percent in July. For white voters, the numbers were 72.6 percent turnout in November 2012 and 42.5 percent turnout in July 2012.