Bibb County election lawsuit won’t be withdrawn

pramati@macon.comJuly 3, 2013 

A lawsuit over the election date for the new Macon-Bibb County government won’t be withdrawn, despite the Bibb County Board of Elections’ decision last week to set a Sept. 17 nonpartisan election.

Atlanta-based attorney Lee Parks, who represents Mallory Jones III, a local real estate agent running for the new District 4 commission seat, said Wednesday that Jones wants to have a federal judge sign off on everything necessary to have the election on that date to make it more difficult for any other party to challenge the election results.

“There’s still a ton of issues to work out,” Parks said. “There’s early voting, requalifying. It’s not just as simple as picking a date.”

Parks said getting the Sept. 17 date -- the next date on the Georgia secretary of state’s calendar to hold a special election after July -- was a victory, and he hopes to settle the remaining issues with the county and the elections board, then have the judge sign off on the settlement.

“The lawsuit is designed to bring finality,” he said. “The results (of the election) could be challenged if it’s decided the election was held on an illegal date. We want finality. That’s the whole point.”

The election was originally scheduled for July 16, but that decision needed preclearance, or approval, from the Justice Department. After the Justice Department asked for more time beyond the June 3 date it was slated to decide, the county and the board of elections decided to postpone the election. The board needs at least a 45-day window to schedule elections.

On June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a decision that suspended the need for Justice Department preclearance. That decision allowed the county to go ahead with an election.

Whether anyone challenges any other aspect of the Sept. 17 election remains to be seen.

Monday night, the Bibb County Democratic Party’s executive committee approved setting aside $1,000 for possible legal action, but a complaint hasn’t been filed yet.

During that meeting, the party ousted Steve Allen, who served as one of the two Democrats on the five-person board of elections along with Ronnie Miley.

Since Allen was removed, he said he’s gotten an outpouring of support for his decision to cast the deciding vote in favor of the September date.

“I’ve been showered with adoration,” said Allen, who has since been replaced on the elections board by John Swint. “My phone’s been ringing off the hook, I’ve gotten a lot of Facebook messages that have been very positive. Someone even sent me flowers.”

Allen said no one from the party approached him before the vote to voice opposition to the September date. He said he was against the July date approved by the Legislature because of data indicating lower voter turnout in that month. He said there was a negligible difference in turnout between September and November, the month the Democrats favored to hold the election.

A Nov. 5 election would have meant a later runoff date that would give winners just weeks to prepare for the new government that begins its work Jan. 1.

In addition, the board of elections already sent out absentee ballot applications. Because it’s now a September election, Allen said the board of elections doesn’t have to send them out again, so it saves money. That wouldn’t have been the case if the election had been held in November.

Allen, who served as vice chairman of the board of elections, ran last week’s meeting in the absence of chairwoman Rinda Wilson. Allen was joined by board members Herb Spangler and Barbara Clowers in voting for the Sept. 17 date, with Miley opposed.

Miley said after the meeting he would have opposed any nonpartisan election, regardless of the date. But in March, it was Miley who made a motion during a board of elections meeting to hold a nonpartisan election in July.

Miley said he changed his mind after speaking with other Bibb County Democrats.

“It’s my right to change my mind,” he said.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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