Board of Commissioners and School Board Elect Minority Candidates for the First Time in the County’s History
January 25, 2019 (GWINNETT COUNTY, GA) – A federal lawsuit seeking changes to the voting district boundaries for the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners and the School Board has been concluded after significant demographic changes helped fuel the success of minority candidates in the 2018 November general election.
Prior to this election, no minority candidate had ever won election to a county level office in the history of the county, despite the fact that Gwinnett County is considered to be the most racially diverse county in the southeastern United States. Now, minority candidates hold office in both the Board of Commissioners and the School Board.
“We are heartened by the historic election of people of color to the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners and School Board,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “While the plaintiffs would have been justified in continuing the litigation because the 2011 district maps were drawn to dilute the voting strength of the county’s minority electorate, we are now hopeful that the newly elected minority members to these bodies and the communities they represent will have a voice in the drawing of fair maps in the upcoming redistricting cycle that will occur after the 2020 Census,” said Clarke.
On August 8, 2016, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), along with the Washington, D.C. office of Crowell and Moring LLP and Atlanta-based attorney Brian J. Sutherland, Esq. of Buckley Beal, LLP, acting as pro bono counsel, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP (GA NAACP), Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) and seven Gwinnett County, Georgia-registered voters, alleging that the district boundaries for the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners and the Gwinnett County Board of Education violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The lawsuit sought the creation of two majority-minority coalition districts in each body comprised of a majority of voting age Black, Latino, and Asian American citizens that would have given minority voters the ability to elect candidates of their choice to the County Board of Commissioners and School Board. Plaintiffs prevailed on motions to dismiss filed defendants, with the Court agreeing with the Plaintiffs’ position that vote dilution claims brought on behalf of multiple minority groups as a coalition are actionable under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Due to a combination of factors occurring since the filing of the lawsuit, including changes in the demographics of the county’s voting age population, increased turnout in the 2018 election, and the decision by two long-term incumbents on the School Board not to run for re-election, minority candidates were finally able to win seats to both bodies.
Marlene Fosque, an African American, and Ben Ku, a Korean American, became the first two non-White candidates elected to the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners. Everton Blair, an African American, was the first non-White candidate to win election to the Gwinnett County School Board. Wandy Taylor, an African American candidate for the School Board, was narrowly defeated in her race for the School Board District 2 seat by a margin of less than a half of a percentage point.
Donna McLeod, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, was also elected to the Georgia House District 105 seat in the 2018 general election and is the first African American to win election to the District 105 seat.