Augusta voting district lines will stand, judge rules



The Augusta Commission and Richmond County school board district plan created by U.S. District Judge J. Randal Hall will stand for 2012 commission and school board elections.

In a 32-page opinion issued Tuesday, Hall declined to incorporate the changes requested by parties in a federal lawsuit filed after the General Assembly failed to implement a new district plan based on 2010 census data.

“I’m a little disappointed with the fact that he gave the plaintiffs and the commission an opportunity to review and submit what we felt were very relevant changes, and they were not considered,” said Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett, who served on a local committee that developed a district map plan – known as 3R – which failed to gain approval in the Republican-dominated Georgia Senate.

The commission, school board and plaintiffs in the lawsuit had offered several recommendations after Hall presented the map for their review last week. Their suggestions included uniting the Sand Ridge neighborhood in a single district and dividing Fort Gordon residents between three districts, instead of the single one that Hall assigned them.

In his opinion, Hall said making the suggested changes would disrupt the small deviations from ideal population size that his map accomplished.

The map includes eight single-member districts that deviate from an ideal size of 25,069 residents by less than 0.5 percent, and two super districts that deviate from an ideal size of 100,275 by 0.3 percent.

It meets the criteria of one person, one vote, Hall wrote, and the Voting Rights Act’s prohibitions against diluting minority voting strength or worsening minority populations’ opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. Because it is devised by a federal judge, the map does not require clearance by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Five of the districts in Hall’s plan are more than 60 percent black, while District 6’s majority black population is 52.43 percent black and 54.26 percent black or mixed-race. The south Augusta district has been represented by a white commissioner and school board members since consolidation.

Using the Georgia Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office as his technical adviser, Hall said he created a map that minimally changed existing district lines, preserving at least 74.19 percent of the “core constituency” of each district.

Former commission candidate Sammie Sias, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who campaigned hard to unite Sand Ridge, said he was disappointed that his and his neighbors’ efforts were unsuccessful.

“We’re having to live with the colossal failure of the local process that should have worked,” Sias said.

Jack Padgett, the District 6 school board member who served on the local committee, approved the map.

“It validated what I’d been saying all along; the fairest and best approach was our Plan 2,” Padgett said of a preliminary committee plan resembling Hall’s that deviated only slightly from existing district lines.

The map allows five commission races and five school board elections to move forward, now that candidates know the boundaries of the areas they seek to represent. Hall also set candidate qualifying for the 10 posts, delayed because of the lawsuit, to begin at 9 a.m. Aug. 6 and end at noon Aug. 8.

Though the lines are drawn, the redistricting process may not be over. Rep. Wayne Howard, D-Augusta, said the plan “gives us a foundation to work with” when the Legislature convenes in January.

“If there’s a consensus there, I would have no problem to do some tweaking,” Howard said. “I would hope that we would not have to go back and start from scratch.”

Introducing politics back into the process did not appeal to term-limited District 6 Commissioner Joe Jackson.

“Letting the judge do it took out all the politics,” Jackson said.

Interactive Map of New Voting Districts

Navigate the map to find your district, and click on each district for demographic data related to the new district lines.

See a larger version of the map

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Voting districts map
Read U.S. District Judge J. Randal Hall's decision
See the judge's map