WASHINGTON - The Justice Department announced that it has settled a Voting Rights Act lawsuit against the Georgetown County, S.C., Board of Education. The Justice Department simultaneously filed a complaint and negotiated consent decree pertaining to the method of election for the Georgetown County Board of Education.
The lawsuit, filed March 14, 2008, in the U.S. District Court in Charleston, alleges that the at-large method of electing school board members violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it diluted the voting strength of black voters in Georgetown County. While black citizens comprise approximately 38 percent of the population of Georgetown County, the current school board is all white and no black candidates have won a school board election during the last three election cycles.
“We are very pleased that the Georgetown County School Board has agreed to change its method of election,” said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Today’s settlement ensures that African-Americans in Georgetown County will have the opportunity to elect school board members of their choice, as guaranteed by the Voting Rights Act.”
The consent decree, which requires court approval, will create seven single-member districts and two at-large seats on the nine-member school board. In three of the single-member districts (Districts 3, 4, and 7), black citizens will constitute a majority of the age-eligible population. The district lines under the consent decree will mirror district lines for the Georgetown County Council.
Under the terms of the consent decree, all seven districts will elect a board member in November 2008. In November, candidates for Districts 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 shall run for four-year terms expiring in 2012, and candidates running in Districts 2 and 7 shall run for two-year terms expiring in 2010. Thereafter, all board members shall be elected to four-year terms. The positions of two incumbent board members, Jim Dumm and Benny Elliott, are converted to at-large positions expiring in 2010.
The consent decree also requires that the chairperson of the board to be elected by the board itself, instead of the current county-wide method for electing the board chairperson.
The lawsuit is the result of an investigation conducted by the Civil Rights Division regarding the County’s electoral practices and history. The Justice Department’s analysis of County elections found that black voters in Georgetown County are politically cohesive and geographically compact and that white voters, who form a majority of the County’s electorate, usually vote as a bloc to defeat the black voters’ candidates of choice. This bloc voting, coupled with the use of the at-large election system, has resulted in a dilution of the voting strength of the black voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
Complaints about discriminatory voting practices may be reported to the Justice Department at 1-800-253-3931. More information about the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice Web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting.