Gwinnett County, Georgia is 53.5% minority, the most racially diverse county in the Southeast. The county’s minority population is comprised of a mixture of African Americans, Latinx and Asian-Americans. However, according to a lawsuit filed in Atlanta on Monday, August 8, no minority candidate has ever won a seat on the Gwinnett County Commission or Board of Education due to district lines and at-large voting rules that prevent minority groups from electing candidates of their choice.
This lawsuit arises amidst a slew of cases challenging voting rights laws across the nation, as minority voters push back against restrictive election laws, from voter ID requirements in North Carolina, to outlandish proof of residency requirements in Sparta, Georgia.
The Gwinnett County lawsuit claims that minority votes are diluted in Gwinnett due to the at-large system, which, due to racially-polarized voting, always produces a white winner in county commissioner chair elections. In addition, district lines dilute the power of minority voting blocs in county commissioner and Board of Education elections. Although the county is majority minority, only one voting district has majority minority residents.
The lawsuit was filed by Lawyers Committee, a civil rights advocacy group, on behalf of seven Gwinnett County residents, the Georgia NAACP, and the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.
Minority citizens of Gwinnett feel that, in light of the increasingly diverse county, they also deserve diverse representation, or at least representation that is sensitive to their needs. According to the LA Times, elections officials in Gwinnett refused to make Spanish language ballots for its citizens, or provide interpreters at local school board meetings, although Gwinnett County is 11% Hispanic. Minority residents also have issues with local city involvement in immigration issues and school discipline, but their complaints are not being heeded by local leaders.
While it is true that all members of the local Board of Education and the Gwinnett County Commission are white (and they always have been white), the plaintiffs may have a hard time proving their case. They must demonstrate that minorities vote in a particular pattern and the impact is diluted only due to the drawing of district lines and the at-large system. That they are not winning elections is not enough evidence to prove their case under Section Two of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits the dilution of minority vote strength.
Still, the fact that, since 2002, twelve minority candidates have run for the County Commission and School Board, and all have lost, suggests at least that the voices of black, Latinx, and Asian Americans are not being heard in Gwinnett County.
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