If nonpartisan elections for the new Macon-Bibb County consolidated government stand, campaigns for the countywide mayors job and nine commission seats could be much shorter than usual.
However, if nonpartisan elections are overturned by the U.S. Department of Justice, that will send the Bibb County Board of Elections staff into overdrive, preparing for partisan primaries, possible runoffs and a later general election instead of only one round of balloting.
Since Senate Bill 25 passed, were preparing for the July 16 nonpartisan special election, said Jeanetta Watson, Bibb County elections supervisor.
House Bill 1171, which voters approved last July and which allows creation of the consolidated government, sets the election of a countywide mayor and nine commissioners for Nov. 5.
A primary shall be conducted in accordance with law prior to such election, the bill says, in line with the then-existing partisan election system.
There would have been a primary and possibly a runoff, but the way Senate Bill 25 calls for the election is, its going to be nonpartisan, Watson said. And whoever gets the majority of votes would be the winner. Thats both mayor and commissioners.
In this legislative session, the Georgia General Assembly passed Republican-sponsored bills to make the new government nonpartisan.
The bills, notably Senate Bill 25, passed on nearly party-line votes in both chambers: Republicans for, Democrats against.
Before the bills passed, Macon was the only city in Georgia that still held partisan elections for local offices. State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, one of the legislators who pushed for nonpartisan elections, said the change makes the new government consistent with the rest of the state.
But Democratic members of the local legislative delegation and most members of Macon City Council, which is largely Democratic, denounced the change.
The Bibb County Democratic Party sent a letter to the Justice Department in February, calling the legislation a veiled attempt to thwart democracy by diluting minority voting.It asks to make elections partisan again, move the general election back to November, and re-examine how the nine districts in the new consolidated government were drawn.
That would be a drastic change, if the Department of Justice decided not to approve it, Watson said. Wed be back to square one.
Right now, qualifying for those 10 new offices is planned for April; as nonpartisan positions, candidates would qualify with Watson, she said.
But if the Justice Department overturns the legislation, qualifying would be with officials from each party, and qualifying would be held 30 days before the July primary vote, she said.
That would make it pretty tight for us if we had to qualify in June for a special election, Watson said.
The Justice Department has 60 days to consider the changes in light of the federal Voting Rights Act, which protects the right to vote regardless of race. Washington has 60 days from the receipt of the letter to respond or ask Macon-Bibb for more information, which would restart the 60-day clock.
Either way, Watson says, the new election will bring a change in voting for the county mayors position. Since being mayor has been a city job, previously voting in the mayors race was limited to residents of Macon.
But now all Bibb voters can vote for the county mayor and one district commissioner.
Everyone in the county is eligible to vote, she said.
Telegraph writer Maggie Lee contributed to this report. To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.