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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Circuit Vacates S.C. Voter Discrimination Ruling

(CN) - The 4th Circuit vacated a federal judge's ruling that found the method of electing members to a South Carolina county school board violated the Voting Rights Act because it resulted in unlawful racial discrimination and diluted the minority vote.

The district court refused the opportunity to review the results of the two most recent school board elections of Lexington County, S.C., since the underlying suit was filed in 2003, and those results should be considered, the 4th Circuit said, after a black candidate was elected to the board in 2008.

Although the 1994 implementation of a new election system saw voter turnout quadruple, whites have outpaced blacks, the ruling states. That has caused candidates preferred by blacks to be defeated by the white majority voting as a bloc, plaintiffs R.O. Levy and Betty Etheredge claimed in their 2003 lawsuit against the School Board and Elton Wilson, Chair of the Lexington County Registration and Election Commission.

Before 1978, School Board members were appointed by the Lexington County Board of Education. In 1978, the school district established a process where members were elected annually via at-large, non-partisan elections. Under the new system, three black candidates were elected from 1978 through 1993.

In 1994, the school district's method of electing members changed again to the current system, where members are elected during the November general election in even numbered years.

The district court examined the case for three years, during which time the 2006 and 2008 elections were held. A black candidate was elected in 2008, and the school board filed a motion for leave to supplement the record.

In February, without deciding on the school board's motion to supplement, the district court ruled that the system adopted in 1994 violates the Voting Rights Act.

The 4th Circuit ruled that the outcomes of the 2006 and 2008 elections should be considered because a black candidate was elected in 2008.

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