It will now be up to U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall to decide how to proceed with the lawsuit that contends the election date change for local elections violates the Voting Rights Act.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit 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 plaintiffs seek an injunction against the election date change from the November general election to the May 20 primary election. They contend the move will result in discrimination against minority voters, whose turnout is much lower in past primary elections compared to white voter turnout. The plaintiffs also want a three-judge panel to hear their case.
Absentee and early voting already have begun. The local races on the ballot are for mayor and commission districts 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 races.
The city relies on a U.S. Supreme Court case decided in June, Shelby County v. Holder, to contend no three-judge panel is necessary and that the lawsuit should be dismissed. The city contends that decision has invalidated the provision of the Voting Rights Act law required preclearance by the U.S. Justice Department of any election changes.
The requirement inserted in 1965 applied only to the states where voters had been required to pass certain tests to be eligible to vote, and where minority voter turnout was 12 percent or lower than the national average. Georgia was one of those states.
In their response to the city’s motions, the plaintiffs contend that the Supreme Court didn’t strike down the Voting Rights Act, only the formula created in 1965.
The Supreme Court noted in the Shelby decision, decided by a 5-4 majority, that history didn’t stop in 1965 and that current conditions must be considered pertinent factors.
The plaintiffs also pointed to another passage in the decision: “Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting.”