Bibb County Attorney Virgil Adams has asked the U.S. Department of Justice for a decision by next week about whether elections for the new consolidated Macon-Bibb County government will be nonpartisan.
Without a Justice Department decision by Monday, June 17, local officials would be forced to seek “immediate relief in federal court” to ensure timely elections, Adams said in a letter dated Friday and made public Monday.
In the nine-page letter, Adams requested the Justice Department to make its decision about pre-clearance for partisan or nonpartisan elections to provide the Bibb County Board of Elections “adequate time to implement procedures for a November election which may or may not require a primary depending on your decision. Time is of the essence.”
Elections for the new government were planned for mid-July but were postponed after the federal government asked for more time to render a decision beyond a June 3 deadline -- effectively killing the possibility of a July election.
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The new government is scheduled to begin Jan. 1 -- replacing Macon’s mayor and City Council, along with the Bibb County Commission -- and some members of the local legislative delegation wanted a July nonpartisan election to elect leaders for the new government.
Among them is state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, who said Monday that lawmakers were told by legislative attorneys early on that the elections should be held in July to comply with state law for nonpartisan elections.
Peake said that was the only reason he and state Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, pushed for July elections.
“We -- I mean Republicans -- have been called every name in the book (by people) saying the only reason we wanted July elections was racially motivated,” he said. Opponents of summertime elections have said black voter participation tends to be lower in the summer than in the fall.
“(The letter) shows the only reason we were moving the date to July was because of state law,” Peake said. “That’s an important piece of the puzzle that proves there was no ulterior motive.”
Because the election effectively has been pushed back to November, the elections board must re-open qualifying for the county mayor and nine county commission spots in the new government. Candidates who previously qualified won’t have to pay any more fees, but they will have to register new paperwork.
If the elections are partisan, the board of elections also will have to hold primaries, plus runoffs if necessary. The primaries likely would be held in August.
Peake reiterated his support for nonpartisan elections.
“I hope, for the sake of the community, we get them,” he said. “We should elect the best folks for the new government and get them off to the best start we can.”