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Judge mulls map

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April 21, 2004

Albany - Controversy over voting maps sent Dougherty County back to federal court Wednesday. If a new map isn't chosen by Friday, the County may have to delay qualifying for the July primary.

In 2002, Lawrence Knighton and the NAACP sued the Dougherty County Commission and the School Board for using a voting map that underrepresented the black population. The commission and school board agreed to a new map, but local lawmakers didn't OK the map this legislative session. So with time running out, a federal judge is forced to choose a map.

"I couldn't, with a straight face, sign off on a map that doesn't represent the current makeup of District 6 or the County at large," said Representative Lawrence Roberts. Rep. Roberts wasn't satisfied with any of the four maps drawn up for Judge Louis Sands by a state redistricting expert.

"Naturally, my preference would be the one that gives the blacks a better chance of electing a person of their persuasion in District 6," said Roberts.

"His goal is to have guaranteed results, rather than have competitive districts," said Attorney David Walbert. Walbert, who's representing the County, says all four maps are fair. He blames the local legislative delegation for forcing the Court to decided.

Attorneys for both sides agreed either proposed Map 3 and Map 4 would be the best. Both maps shift black voters into District 6, in Southeast Dougherty County, making the population 58% black. The only real difference between the maps is the way Putney is divided. Map 3 carves Putney into 2 precincts and Map 4 divides it into 3 precincts. More precincts can lead to more confusion and problems at the polls.

"Now a days you get a computer card that allows you to vote," said Walbert. "You have to preprogrammed it for every person, for everyone one of those ballot combinations. The more precinct splits you have, the greater the problems you have." Problems Albany voters saw first hand in February when incorrectly encoded cards did not allow some people to vote in the correct districts.

Judge Sands said he will likely choose a map by Friday so qualifying and the election won't be delayed.

Posted at 5:35PM by kathryn.murchison@walb.com