Andrew S. Johnson, Esq.
Arnold, Stafford, & Randolph
P.O. Box 339
Hinesville, Georgia 31310
B. Jay Swindell, Esq.
McCullough & Swindell
P.O. Box 39
Glennville, Georgia 30427
Dear Messrs. Johnson and Swindell:
This refers to Act No. 384 (H.B. 1075) (2012), which provides the redistricting plan
for the Board of Education; and Act No. 383 (H.B. 1074) (2012), which provides
the redistricting plan for the Board of Commissioners of Long County, Georgia,
submitted to the Attorney General pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights
Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. 1973c. We received your response to our July 2, 2012,
request for additional information on July 13, 2012; additional information was
received through August 23, 2012.
We have carefully considered the information you have provided, as well as census
data, comments and information from other interested parties, and other
information. Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the submitting
authority has the burden of showing that the proposed changes neither have a
discriminatory purpose nor will have a discriminatory effect. Georgia v.
United States, 411 U.S. 526 (1973); Procedures for the Administration of
Section 5of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 28 C.F.R. 51.52. As discussed
further below, I cannot conclude that the county’s burden under Section 5 has
been sustained with regard to the proposed redistricting plans. Therefore, on
behalf of the Attorney General, I must object to both plans.
According to the 2010 Census, the county has a total population of 14,464 persons, of
whom 3,687 (25.5%) are African American. Of the 10,045 persons of voting age, 2,483
(24.7%) are African American. From 2000 to 2010, the county’s total population
increased by 40.4 percent, with its black population increasing 49.1 percent
and its white population increasing 27.1 percent. The total black population
increased from 21.6 percent in 1990 to 25.5 percent in 2010. The county’s
Hispanic population has grown to 12.3 percent.
Long County is governed by a five-member board of commissioners, which elects a
chairperson from among its members. The Long County Board of Education, which
also consists of five members and elects a chairperson, is the governing body
for the school district. The commissioners and school board members are
elected by majority vote from five single-member districts to four-year
concurrent terms in even-numbered years from coterminous districts. Commissioner
elections are partisan, with a primary election in July, a runoff election, if
necessary, in August, and the general election in November. Board of education
contests are nonpartisan.
The benchmark method of election and districting plan result from the 1987
settlement of a lawsuit challenging the at-large method of electing members of
the county commission under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C.
1973. Glover v. Long County Bd. of Comm’rs, No. 2:87-cv-20 (S.D.
Ga.). The county has not redistricted in twenty-five years, since adopting the
single-member district system to comply with the court’s order.
We start our review with an analysis of whether the county has established the
absence of a discriminatory effect. A voting change has a discriminatory
effect if it will lead to a retrogression in the position of members of a
racial or language minority group (i.e., will make members of such a
group worse off than they had been before the change with respect to their
opportunity to exercise the electoral franchise effectively). Beer v. United
States, 425 U.S. 130, 141 (1976).
Under the benchmark plans, black persons constitute 47.1 percent of the total
population, 47.2 percent of the voting age population, and 44.5 percent of the registered
voters in District 3. Our analysis of electoral behavior establishes that voting
is racially polarized throughout the county. We have concluded, however, that
there is a sufficient level of consistent crossover voting by white persons in
the benchmark district to provide black voters with the ability to elect their
candidate of choice. Accordingly, under the benchmark plans, African American
voters have the ability to elect candidates of choice in District 3.
Under the proposed plans, the black voting age population of District 3 decreases by
6.7 percentage points, from 47.2 to 40.5 percent, and the total black
population decreases by 5.3 percentage points, from 47.1 to 41.8 percent. Due
to this change, African American voters experience a retrogression of their
ability to elect candidates of choice. The evidence also indicates that this
retrogression was avoidable.
We recognize that as a result of the county’s twenty-five year hiatus since its
last redistricting, the release of the 2010 Census data would require
significant population movement to meet the one-person, one-vote standard.
“Section 5 does not require jurisdictions to violate the one-person, one-vote
principle.” Guidance Concerning Redistricting Under Section 5 of the Voting
Act, 76 Fed. Reg. 7470, 7472 (Feb. 9, 2011). To satisfy the constitutional
requirement, the county expanded District 3, which was significantly
underpopulated, to the east along Highway 84. The district then expands to the
northeast in the eastern portion of the county, while failing to add any
population to the southeast. This configuration precluded the county from
enacting non-retrogressive plans. Illustrative plans indicate that had the
county continued to expand District 3 to the southeast, it could have devised a
plan that was not retrogressive while adhering equally well to the county’s
other redistricting criteria. Id.
Because we conclude that the county has failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that
the proposed plans will not have the statutorily-prohibited effect, we do not
make any determination as to whether it has established the plans were not
adopted with a discriminatory purpose.
We note that under Section 5 you have the right to seek a declaratory judgment
from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia that the
proposed changes neither have the purpose nor will have the effect of denying
or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a
language minority group. 28 C.F.R. 51.44. In addition, you may request that
the Attorney General reconsider the objection. 28 C.F.R. 51.45. However,
until the objection is withdrawn or the county obtains the requisite judgment
from that court, the submitted changes continue to be legally unenforceable. Clark
v. Roemer, 500 U.S. 646 (1991); 28 C.F.R. 51.10. To enable us to
meet our responsibility to enforce the Voting Rights Act, please inform us of
the action Long County and the Long County School District plan to take
concerning this matter. If you have any questions, you should contact Robert
S. Berman, a deputy chief in the Voting Section, at 202/514-8690.
/ s /
Thomas E. Perez
Assistant Attorney General