An election conundrum created by local lawmakers

March 3, 2013 

The United States Supreme Court -- and the U.S. Justice Department -- will have a say in our consolidation process. First the Justice Department. Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act it has to clear all changes in elections. In Bibb’s case, various Senate bills making several offices nonpartisan have to be pre-cleared.

Those letters seeking pre-clearance were submitted last week and the Justice Department has a couple of months to render judgment. In the mix the Justice Department will have to muddle through is an opposing view that voters -- when approving consolidation -- also approved partisan elections and the effort to renege on that provision is reason to not allow the change. There is also the issue of a July 16 vote instead of a November election. And there is another caveat which lends credence to state Rep. Nikki Randall’s accusation that Republican members of the local delegation are pulling a “bait and switch” by changing aspects of the consolidation measure already approved by voters.

The Official Code of Georgia O.C.G.A. § 21-2-9 states: “All general municipal elections to fill municipal offices shall be held on the Tuesday next following the first Monday in November in each odd-numbered year.” In addition, Section 9-101 of House Bill 98, the consolidated charter, approved in 2012 states: “The initial election for the purpose of electing the first mayor and members of the board of commissioners of the unified government shall be held on the Tuesday next following the first Monday in November, 2012.” However, in Senate Bill 25, sponsored by state Sen. Cecil Staton and Rep. Allen Peake, the date for the initial election is changed. “The initial commissioners shall be elected at a nonpartisan election held on the third Tuesday in July, 2013.”

As far as the Supreme Court. It is deliberating whether Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act calling for preclearance is still applicable. If the Justice Department denies pre-clearance, either on the grounds of nonpartisan or date of elections changes, all becomes moot.

The timing of the decision is crucial. The Supreme Court will issue its decision by the middle of June. The question we should ask our state representatives is why? If the nation can prepare an orderly transition of power between the November elections and January, why can’t we?

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