A special election for a Macon-Bibb County Commission seat will be held in May after all.
Qualifying for the north Macon District 1 seat begins next week after the elections board voted Friday to move the date up from Nov. 6 to May 22. Some board members said they changed their minds after hearing from some district residents about a feeling of disenfranchisement if the special election was held in the fall.
The election to fill the position left vacant by former Commissioner Gary Bechtel will be held at the same time as the statewide general primary.
Two board members said Friday that the elections board and county would have won a lawsuit asking a judge to force the county to have the election in May. But the cost of fighting the complaint was probably not worth it, they said.
Macon-Bibb's financial woes was one of the reasons why some elections officials said they were initially against spending the nearly $20,000 needed the May special election.
The cost of the election would rise if there is a runoff in July.
"There has been some conversation and some people thinking that we were trying to disenfranchise District 1 (voters), which will never be the case as long as I'm on here," Elections board Vice-Chairman Henry Ficklin said Friday. "As a member of the African-American community, I know what it means to be disenfranchised from voting."
He later added, "I think this could have waited. But based upon the people in District 1 feeling strongly enough to file a suit, then certainly I will step back and let them have the election," Ficklin said.
Candidates will be able to qualify to run for the commission post from 9 a.m. Tuesday until noon Thursday.
The vote Friday was 4-1 for the May 22 election with board member Cassandra Powell casting the lone dissenting vote. Ficklin and Herbert Spangler and Mike Kaplan reversed their course from last weeks vote.
Another elections board member, Rinda Wilson, voted for a second time to have the election in May.
Now, elections officials and employees will be tasked with getting everything ready for the special election in short order.
That includes mailing out notices to the roughly 13,000 registered voters. The timing of the election also means the commissioner's race will be on separate ballots, forcing residents will have cast that vote on a different voting machine than the other races.
In March, county commissioners voted against paying the nearly $20,000 needed to fund the May election, with several officials citing problems that could arise because of the timing.
However, the County Commission then decided last week to pay for the election after hearing from district residents who wanted representation as soon as possible.
Commissioner Joe Allen said Friday he was glad the special election has been set for May so the people who live in the district can elect their own commissioner.
On Monday, Bibb County school board member Daryl Morton, who lives in District 1, filed the lawsuit against the County Commission and elections board.
Bechtel was forced to step down in March because of qualifying for a state Legislature race.