Tuesday, May 22, 2012

No Qualifying for Augusta Commission and School Board Races This Week

Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Augusta, GA

By The Outsider
*UPDATED May 23, 2012*

If there is any certainty in what has become an uncertain roller coaster ride over Augusta redistricting and elections dates, it is that qualifying for Augusta commission and Richmond County school board races will NOT happen this week. What happens after that though is still uncertain.

We spoke with Augusta-Richmond County Board of Elections Director Lynn Bailey today and she confirmed that qualifying for Augusta commission and school board races would definitely NOT occur this week. She said her department is waiting on word from Federal Judge Randy Hall on what will happen after that.

Since the Georgia state legislature was unable to come to an agreement over new redistricting maps for Augusta-Richmond county, the process has been taken over by the Federal courts, and Judge Randy Hall has been charged with drawing the new maps. The judge has said he will follow the "minimum change doctrine" when constructing the maps and they will likely be interim, for use just this year, giving the legislature an opportunity to go back next year and draw up new maps that would be used until after the next census.

At a court hearing on the matter last Wednesday, Judge Hall said the interim map will not be Map-3R, the one unanimously approved by the redistricting ad-hoc committee chaired by Commissioner Alvin Mason last November , but instead would be an entirely new map, but could resemble portions of Map-3R. The sticking point over Map-3R was District 6.. which shifted from having a black voting majority of around 54% to a black majority of over 60%. Some white commissioners and school board members objected to this saying it would change the racial balance on the commission and institute a 6-4 black majority, when the consolidation charter  strived to strike a racial balance of 5-5. However, the election of Matt Aitken in majority black District 1 in 2009 disrupted that balance.

In the end, probably neither side will get exactly what they want with the interim map drawn by Judge Hall, and that might be a good thing. Since Judge Hall said his map would not be a clone of Map-3R, it's probably a good bet that District 6 will look more like its current form.. with the racial voting balance mirroring that of the county as a whole.

What is likely to change under any new map are districts 1, 2 , 3, and 4. District 1 lost  4,165 people from the last census and District 3 gained 4,840. Since districts need to be of comparable population size to adhere to the "one-man-one-vote" principle under the 14th amendment of the US Constitution, people will need to be added to district 1 and 2 and taken away from district 3 to balance things out.  Under Map-3R, precinct 702 was moved into district 1 from district 7 to shore up population losses in  district 1. Precinct 702 includes the Bryn Mawr neighborhood, Lakeshore and parts of National Hills. However,  District 7 only had a population deviation of  +2.41% from  the 2000 census, whereas District 3 had a population deviation of  +19.31%  from the 2000 census. District 2 (currently represented by Corey Johnson) lost 2,734 people from the 2000 census for a population deviation of -10.91. What could happen is that people are moved out of the overpopulated District 3 and into both District 1 and District 2 to balance out the population shifts. District 7 is likely to remain in its current form if Judge Hall follows the "minimum change" doctrine.

District 4 (currently represented by Alvin Mason) gained 3,204 people from the 2000 census for a deviation of +12.78. District 6 (represented by Joe Jackson) lost 1,973 people for a deviation of -7.87 and District 5 (currently represented by Bill Lockett) lost 1,690 people for a deviation of -6.74. One possible outcome of the court redistricting is that people are shifted from District 4 and into both district 6 and district 5, keeping a racial balance in both districts similar to their current state.

At the hearing last Wednesday, Judge Hall said that it would take him around 10 days to draw up an interim map. Since it is being drawn by a Federal court judge, it will not need to be approved by the US Justice Department. According to this time frame, a new map could be ready by the end of this week or early next week. So what does that mean for qualifying dates and the date of the election? Board of Elections Director Lynn Bailey said that after this week anything is possible and it all depends on what Judge Hall decides. They are simply waiting on something definitive from him to know how to proceed.

At last Wednesday's hearing, Judge Hall hinted that qualifying for the commission and school board could be postponed until August with the races appearing on the November General election ballot instead of the July 31st general primary ballot. The judge said that if new maps were not ready by the May 23rd qualifying deadline and if the Department of Justice had not rendered a verdict on SB-92 (the bill that moved Augusta district non partisan elections to July 31st) by this week, he would make a motion to post-pone qualifying to August with the elections being held in November. Qualifying for county-wide races will still occur this week, only commission and school board races are being delayed. Hopefully by next week, there will be more certainty for candidates and voters over the commission and school board races.***

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