U.S. District Judge J. Randal Hall released Tuesday a map of Richmond County Board of Education and Augusta Commission districts to be used in November elections for five school board members and five commissioners.
Using what Hall said was the “minimum change doctrine” to adjust existing district lines just enough to accommodate population shifts, the map maintains the four majority white and six majority black districts on Augusta’s existing voting map.
The plan increases the black population percentage in districts 1, 6, 8 and 10. However, the increase in District 6 was 52.97 percent to 54.26 percent black, lower than what some local black politicians wanted.
An earlier proposal that boosted District 6’s minority percentage to more than 60 percent was rejected by Republicans on the commission, school board and legislature.
The district, which became majority-black in the early 2000s, has elected a white commissioner and school board member since consolidation.
Hall’s map, which was awaited by parties on both sides of a federal lawsuit over district lines, doesn’t appear to remove any incumbents from their existing districts, even among six Augusta commissioners who are term-limited.
Initial reaction to the map was positive.
“I’m ecstatic and walking on Cloud 9,” said Donnie Smith, a commission candidate for District 7 who said he met voters concerned about neighborhoods that could be divided by new district lines.
“We had worked so hard to keep National Hills, Scotts Way, Vineland and that area together. We were able to keep our neighborhood intact,” he said.
District 7 Commissioner Jerry Brigham, who is term-limited, said he was pleased with his district losing only a single precinct in the new proposal.
Brigham, an opponent of the plan developed locally, known as 3R, also said he “liked the ratios in (District) 6 better.”
Divided neighborhoods also had been a concern of former commission candidate Sammie Sias, who said the small map version he had seen appeared to reunite his Sand Ridge neighborhood into a single commission district, although details weren’t clear.
He said he is pleased with the outcome, “If it works out that way.” Sias is one of nine Richmond County residents who filed suit in U.S. District Court against the commission and school board after Augusta legislators failed to agree on a new district plan based on 2010 U.S. Census figures.
While a local committee had developed and approved 3R, the commission did not endorse it and legislators opted to leave it in the court’s hands after attempts to compromise on alternative versions.
Last month, Hall enjoined Augusta-Richmond from holding commission and school board elections based on decade-old district lines and postponed qualifying for the 10 posts.
His Tuesday court order, of which the map was a part, gave plaintiffs and defendants until 5 p.m. June 13 to file written comments about the map but did not set the dates of candidate qualifying. Because the map is drawn by a federal judge, it does not require preclearance by the U.S. Department of Justice to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act.