More than half a century after the passage of the federal Voting Rights Act, the most racially diverse county in the southeastern United States is depriving minority voters of the ability to elect local candidates of their choice, a coalition of civil rights groups has alleged in a federal lawsuit. Although minorities make up more than half the residents of Gwinnett County, Ga., northeast of Atlanta, no black, Latino or Asian American candidate has ever won a seat on the Board of Commissioners or Board of Education or in any other county office, the lawsuit says. The voting strength of minorities has been diluted by county district maps that have been drawn in violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee, which represents the plaintiffs, including the Georgia National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and the Georgia Assn. of Latino Elected Officials.
“We found it remarkable and startling that in an area with such tremendous racial diversity, you had the outright exclusion of African Americans and Latinos from the political life of the county,” Clarke told reporters on a conference call Monday. “This is a long-standing and historical problem that we seek to uproot.”
She said the problem is part of a wider pattern of racial tension in a county where black parents have raised concerns about how public schools discipline their children and Latinos have criticized county law enforcement for rounding up immigrants living in the country illegally.