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March 18, 2018

ATLANTA – A federal court in Albany agreed with the ACLU Voting Rights Project, the Law Office of Bryan L. Sells, and the ACLU of Georgia, that the Sumter County Board of Elections and Registration’s current school board district lines are unfair to African-Americans, who are 54% of the county’s population.

On Saturday, the court ruled that the current at-large method of voting for the county’s public education school board members disproportionately favored the white majority candidates over the black minority preferred candidates. Reverend Matt Wright, Jr., the plaintiff, brought the lawsuit against the county to change the at-large method of voting so that the African American community would have a fair chance to elect their candidate of choice to a seat on the public education school board.
“Sumter County, the hometown of President Jimmy Carter, has had a long and sordid history of racial discrimination,” stated Laughlin McDonald, Director Emeritus of the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “The discriminatory at-large system is just one of many ways in which the ruling majority has deprived the African American community of its fair shake. We hope this ruling is the first step in achieving Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of equality in Sumter County.”
In its ruling, the court ordered Sumter County to draw fair district lines “to give African Americans a more proportional representation on the Board of Education than does the current plan.” The Court found that “based on the totality of the circumstances, that the at-large districts of the Sumter County Board of Education dilute African-American voting strength in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

Under the court’s order, the Sumter Board of Elections and Registration must confer with the county’s legislative delegation and inform the court “no later than Monday, March 26, 2018 whether the General Assembly is inclined to enact a remedial plan before adjourning sine die or, if not, a timeline for when it believes a remedial plan could be adopted. While the time period is short, the Parties have already put considerable effort into their proposed remedial plans, which will greatly assist the General Assembly in its efforts.”