Bibb Democratic Party seeks to block nonpartisan elections

pramati@macon.comFebruary 18, 2013 

Members of the Bibb County Democratic Party are making an all-out effort to have the Justice Department block legislation signed by Gov. Nathan Deal that would allow for nonpartisan elections in the new Macon-Bibb County consolidated government.

In a letter being sent this week addressed to assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, members of the party accuse the legislation of being a “veiled attempt to thwart democracy” by diluting minority voting.

The General Assembly approved the measure that allows for nonpartisan elections to be held in July. Before the bill passed, Macon was the only city in Georgia that still held partisan elections for local offices.

The Justice Department has 60 days to approve the changes.

The letter in part accuses the local delegation of a “bait-and-switch,” saying voters approved the consolidation bill last July while it still had partisan elections in it. Local Democrats said Monday that if the Legislature wanted to make a change, it should have presented a referendum to local voters before passing the legislation.

In addition to the letter to Perez, the party also is collecting signatures of local voters who are protesting the move.

Macon City Councilwoman Elaine Lucas, a board member of the local Democratic party, is submitting a proposed resolution that calls for the mayor and city council to formally oppose the changes presented in the legislation and to ask the Justice Department to investigate the changes, “which have been adopted contrary to the will of the voters of Macon and Bibb County for the purpose of diluting minority voting strength,” the resolution reads in part.

Party chairman Fred Swann said the party wants to eliminate nonpartisan elections; to move elections to November, where historically there’s a greater turnout of black voters; and to re-examine how the nine districts in the new consolidated government were drawn.

“We believe (the legislation) is a violation of the Civil Rights Act,” Swann said. “(July elections) decreases the amount of total voters as well as (having) a significantly decreasing minority turnout. ... There are concerns about how the districts were drawn. They don’t show continuous community throughout.”

Swann said he lives in what will be the new District 2, in the Northside Drive/Tom Hill Sr. Boulevard area, yet part of the district is in east Macon.

State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, one of the legislators who pushed for nonpartisan elections, said he thinks the Justice Department ultimately will approve the changes.

“All we’ve done is make us consistent with the rest of the state,” Peake said of nonpartisan elections. “The Justice Department will see we’re making a fair and reasonable request.”

Peake said he knew local Democrats opposed the changes and wasn’t surprised to hear that a letter to the Justice Department has been drafted.

“They have the right to object, but I’m fully prepared to fight for our citizens,” he said. “I believe we’ve got a good case to stand on. ... We need to get a decision done. I think the citizens have a right to know what the elections are going to look like and so do the candidates.”

Lucas, however, said having July elections -- especially with a new government and new districts -- doesn’t give voters enough time to learn about candidates.

Suzanne Wood, chairwoman of the Bibb County Republican Party, said she and many of her membership have no issue with nonpartisan elections.

“I believe personally that this will move the community forward,” she said.

“We’ve got to get past party politics. I think it’s insulting to voters in this community to say that they don’t know who to vote for unless there’s a letter beside (a candidate’s) name.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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