VALDOSTA — The wheels of justice move slowly, and despite the looming election on Nov. 3, the Department of Justice has yet to render a decision in the case of the Lowndes County Commission’s expansion proposal.

The county is proposing two super districts, splitting the county in half, so that each of the three districts would have two commissioners, rather than one. The proposal was approved by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue in the spring, and the referendum is on the current ballot. However, if the DOJ delivers a negative decision, the vote is null and void.

In order to ensure that the DOJ had ample time to render a decision, the county followed all of the prescribed due diligence to get the referendum on this year’s ballot, including submitting documentation for approval from the DOJ after approval from the state in the spring.

Several months later, the county received a notice on Aug. 21, from the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice requesting additional documentation regarding the proposed new super districts, voting patterns, voting records, all news articles related to the proposed expansion and more, much more.

Lowndes County Manager Joe Pritchard said the county’s attorney, Walter Elliott, spent several weeks compiling the information and submitted the final draft on Sept. 28. The notebook is more than two inches thick with 45 exhibits included — and Pritchard said the DOJ is still not satisfied.

“They have been calling, literally every single day, requesting more information and clarification,” he said.

According to Pritchard, he doesn’t yet have a final tally on the attorney’s hours, although he knows “it will be a significant amount,” but he also doesn’t have an explanation for the

intensity with which the DOJ is studying the expansion proposal.

“Any time you change or alter voting districts, the DOJ has to approve it after ensuring that the proposal doesn’t violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” he said.

“We’ve been told unofficially that the level of scrutiny from the DOJ is unusual. We understand that they don’t generally go into this much investigation, and we still haven’t been told why.”

The proposed districts were drawn by the Georgia Redistricting Services Office in Atlanta and met all of the criteria for balancing minority voters. County Chairman Ashley Paulk says one of the two districts is majority minority, so he questioned the delay in the approval process.

If the Department of Justice rules that the commission expansion plan violates the Voting Rights Act, then Pritchard says “we’re back to square one. We will have to draw a new map, get the General Assembly to approve it, get the governor’s approval — basically start all over again.”

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