Press Release: ACLU Taking Sumter County Board of Education to Court for Discriminating Against Black Voters
ATLANTA – On Monday, December 11, 2017, the ACLU Voting Rights Project, the Law Office of Bryan L. Sells, and the ACLU of Georgia will be taking the Sumter County Board of Education to trial on behalf of Mathis Kearse Wright Jr., a Sumter County voter, for discriminating against Black voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In 2014,in response to the increasing political power of Black voters, who form 48% of the population, the Sumter County Board of Education redrew its districts such that candidates favored by Black voters would keep only a slim minority of the seats on the Board in Americus, Georgia. The board’s actions violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits the government from depriving Black voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice.
Specifically, the trial will demonstrate that the Sumter County Board of Education added two at-large districts in 2014, which inherently favor white-preferred candidates since white voters form a voting majority county-wide.
In addition, the trial will demonstrate that the board changed the boundaries of the county’s five single-member districts to pack Black voters into only two of the districts, further minimizing their influence.
Thus, even though Black voters comprise nearly one-half of Sumter County voting age population, the board’s changes in the election process are expected to lead to a 5-2 disproportionate majority of white-preferred candidates being elected to the county board.
During the litigation, the federal district court had dismissed the case, ruling in favor of the Sumter County Board of Education, but that decision was reversed on July 28, 2016, by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which ordered that the case proceed to trial.
Sumter County is the birthplace of President Jimmy Carter, whose first political position was on the Sumter County Board of Education.
Attorneys Laughlin McDonald with the ACLU Voting Rights Project, Bryan Sells from the Law Office of Bryan L. Sells, and Aklima Khondoker with the ACLU of Georgia will go to court on Monday, December 11, 2017, to ensure that that Sumter County Board of Education draws its district lines fairly so that they represent the voters of the entire Americus community.
The ACLU of Georgia believes that for democracy to thrive, voters must choose their elected leaders, rather than politicians choosing their voters.