Sunday, December 17, 2017
Politics

Hernando County NAACP abandons plans to challenge county voting districts

BROOKSVILLE — The NAACP will not mount a legal challenge to the county's political district map after all, the Hernando County chapter president said late Tuesday.

The civil rights organization and its state affiliates have too many pressing voter-suppression battles to fight throughout the country to devote resources to a relatively minor cause in Hernando, Paul Douglas told the School Board at its evening meeting.

"We have bigger fish to fry," Douglas said.

Douglas had previously said the group would challenge in federal court a voting district map approved by the County Commission and the School Board. The map is an amended version of one approved in a November workshop by both the commission and the Board. It uses 2010 census data to make some minor adjustments to even out the population in the five districts.

The original map drew fire from Republican Jason Sager, who had announced his plan to run for the District 3 commission seat the day before the workshop. Sager told commissioners that he should have been considered, as other prequalified candidates had been. The map would have moved Sager's residence from District 3 to District 5, and the commission agreed last month to alter the map to put Sager's home back into District 3.

County attorneys called the map legally defensible. A divided School Board approved the same map eight days later to ensure commission districts and board districts align, minimizing voter confusion.

Local NAACP officials called the map a gerrymandered violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. The group created its own map that Douglas argued is better because it is not based on where candidates live and more evenly distributes the population among the five districts.

Douglas has another connection to the map debate: he also is running for the commission's District 5 seat. He planned to step down as branch president last month to avoid a conflict with the NAACP bylaws, but has postponed that resignation while the branch fills vacant vice-president positions to ensure a complete process of succession. That should happen soon, he said.

County Commissioner Dave Russell said he was glad to hear the news of the NAACP's decision.

"It's good that they won't be expending resources because, frankly, I don't think that would benefit the taxpayers or the organization," Russell said.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]

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