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Gwinnett County Faces Voting Rights Lawsuit

Jim Smith steps out of a voting booth after marking his ballot at a polling site for the New Hampshire primary, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Jim Smith steps out of a voting booth after marking his ballot at a polling site for the New Hampshire primary, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Credit David Goldman / Associated Press

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A group of advocacy organizations filed a federal lawsuit against Gwinnett County Monday over district lines and at-large voting, claiming the voting method prevents minority voters from being able to elect candidates of their choosing.  

The suit argues that no minority has ever been elected to the county’s Board of Commissioners and Board of Education. More than half the population in Gwinnett County is black, Latino or Asian-American, according to U.S. Census data.

“It is our view that the method of election used for both of these key political bodies in Georgia violates Section Two of the Voting Rights Act,” Kristen Clarke, president of Lawyers’ Committee, an organization who helped filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Georgia NAACP, the Georgia Association of Latino Elected officials, and seven Gwinnett County voters.

“[Section Two] applies nationally and prohibits political jurisdictions from maintaining policies that dilute the voting strength of minority voters,” Clarke said.

The lawsuit said the groups made up about 42.6 percent of the county’s citizen voting-age population.

“It’s kind of a modern-era Voting Rights Act claim,” said Michael Kang, a professor of law at Emory University, referring to the cases after 2013 when the Supreme Court struck down a key provision in the Voting Rights Act in Shelby v. Holder.  

“Everything is shifting to these types of Section Two claims that puts the onus on the plaintiff to bring suit,” Kang said.

He said the claim in this lawsuit is complicated.

“The fact that you’re not winning elections is not enough for a Voting Rights Act claim,” Kang said. “You have to show that under a different set of circumstances, if the lines are drawn in some other way that make sense  that’s not fantastical – that you would win.”

The suit alleges the district lines for both the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education dilutes minority voting power, as well as the at-large voting method for the county commission chair position.

Joe Sorenson, a representative for Gwinnett County, said the county wasn’t in a position to comment on the litigation.

“Our attorneys will be reviewing the lawsuit that has been filed in federal court but not yet served on Gwinnett County,” Sorenson said Monday afternoon in an emailed statement. “After thorough review, attorneys will brief the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Registrations and Elections.”