127 F.3d 1355 (11th Cir. 1997), 96-8884, Askew v. City of Rome
|Citation:||127 F.3d 1355|
|Party Name:||Bonnie L. ASKEW, Alvin L. Jackson, Sr., Larry G. Morrow, Sr., Committee of Concerned Citizens for the Reappointment of Rome/Floyd County, NAACP of Rome/Floyd County, Plaintiffs-Counter-Defendants, Appellants, Cross-Appellees, v. CITY OF ROME, Georgia City Commission, City of Rome Georgia, Defendants-Counter-Claimants-Appellees, Cross-Appellants, Wi|
|Case Date:||November 14, 1997|
|Court:||United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit|
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Neil Bradley, Laughlin McDonald, Maha Zaki, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, Atlanta, GA, for Plaintiffs-Counter-Defendants, Appellants, Cross-Appellees.
Michelle M. Aronowitz, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Appellate Section, Washington, DC, for amicus curiae.
Robert M. Brinson, Joseph B. Atkins, Brinson, Askew, Berry, Seigler, Richardson & Davis, Rome, GA, for Defendants-Counter-Claimants-Appellees, Cross-Appellants.
Wade C. Hoyt, III, Floyd County Attorney, Rome, GA, for Floyd County Board of Elections & Registration.
Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
Before BIRCH, Circuit Judge, FAY, Senior Circuit Judge, and COHILL [*], Senior District Judge.
The judgment of the district court is affirmed for the reasons set forth in the thorough Order (opinion) entered on June 25, 1996 and attached hereto as Exhibit A.
United States District Court,
Northern District of Georgia,
Bonny L. Askew, et al., Plaintiffs,
City of Rome, Georgia, et al., Defendants.
Civil Action 4:93-cv-28-HLM.
This case came before the Court for a four day non-jury trial on January 29. Plaintiffs contend that the Defendant City of Rome's methods of electing its City Commission and Board of Education are intentionally discriminatory against Rome's African-American community and have the effect of "diluting" the "black vote." They contend, therefore, that Rome's methods violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and several provisions of the United States Constitution. Defendants vehemently disagree. The Court has carefully considered both the testimonial and documentary evidence presented at trial. The Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.
I. Findings of Fact
1. The individual Plaintiffs--Bonny L. Askew, Alvin L. Jackson, Sr., and Larry G. Morrow, Sr.--are African-American citizens and voters of Rome, Georgia.
2. The organizational Plaintiffs--Committee of Concerned Citizens for the Reapportionment of Rome/Floyd County ["CCCRRFC"] and the NAACP of Rome/Floyd County ["NAACP"]--are organizations composed predominantly of African-Americans who reside in Rome and Floyd County.
3. Defendants are the City of Rome, the Rome City Commission, Chairman of the
Rome City Commission William George Pullen, the Rome Board of Education, and Chairwoman of the Rome Board of Education Sandra Burk ("the City Defendants").
4. Election Superintendent of Floyd County Evon Billups and Floyd County Board of Elections members Esther Vaughn, John Ware, and Donna Bojo are also Defendants ("the County Defendants").
B. Current Methods of Election
5. Elections for the City Commission and Board of Education are conducted by the Defendant Floyd County Board of Elections. The County Defendants are also responsible for conducting registration for city voters.
6. No direct barriers to black voting exist in Rome.
7. While Rome does not have any official anti-single shot policy, many of the election ballots contain language like "Vote for 3" or "Vote for 7," suggesting that voters must vote for a full slate of candidates. Because of this language, the average voter is more likely to exercise all of her votes than she would otherwise be.
a. City Commission
8. The Rome City Commission consists of nine members elected at-large by plurality vote in non-partisan elections.
9. Three City Commissioners are elected from each of three residency wards in which the Commissioners must reside.
10. In 1990, the wards varied widely in size and population:
Ward Total Pop. % of City Pop. B Pop. % B Ward 1 6,228 20.5 2,767 44.4 Ward 2 9,405 31.0 4,189 44.5 Ward 3 14,691 48.4 2,054 14.0 As a result of the different population sizes of the City Commission residency wards, Ward 1 had less than half the candidate pool of Ward 3.
11. The current system allows Commissioners to be elected to a particular ward seat even though the voters in that ward favored other candidates.
12. The top three vote getters in each of the three residency wards for City Commission are elected.
13. City Commissioners are elected to four year staggered terms. The six members from Wards 1 and 3 are elected at one election, and the three members from Ward 2 are elected at another election two years later.
14. The three current City Commissioners from Ward 2 were elected in 1993 and the six current City Commissioners from Wards 1 and 3 were elected in 1995.
15. When vacancies on the City Commission occur, Commissioners generally appoint someone to fill that position until the next regularly scheduled election for that residency ward.
b. Board of Education
16. The Rome Board of Education consists of seven members elected at-large by plurality vote in non-partisan elections.
17. Board of Education members are elected to four year concurrent terms.
18. There is no residency ward requirement for Board of Education members.
19. The top seven vote getters are elected. Thus, all seven Board of Education members were elected in 1993.
20. When vacancies on the Board of Education occur, Board members generally appoint someone to fill that position until the next regularly scheduled election.
C. Origin and Background of Methods of Election.
21. Between 1847 and 1918, the City Commission operated under several different schemes--having a mayor or first Commissioner with a varying number of council members, alternating between residency and no residency requirements, majority and plurality vote, and staggered and concurrent terms.
22. In 1909, the Board of Education consisted of 5 members elected at large by plurality vote.
23. In 1918, the Georgia legislature adopted a new charter for the Defendant City of Rome which serves as the origin of the City's current election system for both
the City Commission and Board of Education.
24. The 1918 charter created a seven member City Commission elected at-large to concurrent terms by plurality vote with one Commissioner elected from each of seven residency wards.
25. The 1918 charter created the position of city manager who directed day to day city government.
26. The 1918 charter created a five member Board of Education elected at-large.
27. In 1929, the city charter was amended to increase the number of Commissioners from seven to nine. The amendment added two wards to the Commission to cover newly annexed areas for a total of nine residency wards from each of which one member was elected at-large to concurrent terms by plurality vote.
28. In 1966, the Georgia legislature enacted legislation reducing the number of wards for the Rome City Commission from nine with one member each to three wards with three "numbered posts" in each.
29. Prior to this change, one of the nine wards had a majority of black registered voters, and two other wards were 44 and 46 percent black in population respectively.
30. In 1966, the Georgia legislature enacted legislation adopting a majority vote requirement for primary and general elections for the City Commission and Board of Education.
31. In 1966, the Georgia legislature enacted legislation adopting staggered terms for the City Commission and Board of Education.
32. In 1966, the Georgia legislature enacted legislation increasing the number of members on the Board of Education from five to six and adopted a residency ward requirement for the Board of Education using the same three residency districts adopted for the City Commission with two numbered posts in each ward.
33. In 1970, the Georgia legislature enacted a runoff requirement for City Commission elections in which no candidate received a majority of the vote.
34. In 1971, the Georgia legislature enacted a runoff requirement for Board of Education elections in which no candidate received a majority of the vote.
35. The 1966, 1970, and 1971 election changes were not submitted to the Attorney General of the United States for preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act until 1975.
36. Between 1966 and 1974, elections for the City Commission and Board of Education were conducted under the unprecleared systems.
37. In October, 1975, the Attorney General interposed an objection to the majority vote requirement and runoff provisions for both the City Commission and Board of Education, the numbered post and...
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