The city of Macon and Bibb County are supposed to merge in January -- that is if we ever get to the polls to select the nine members of the new commission and a mayor. It’s all been delayed by the U.S. Department of Justice. Changes that impact voting must first be pre-cleared by the DOJ and there are two issues it must decide: the first being the change to nonpartisan elections, and the second to move the date of the election from November to July. This is where it gets complicated.
State Rep. Allen Peake has stated, and a letter from the Legislative Counsel proves, that the date change was to comply with state law O.C.G.A. Section 21-2-139 that requires July elections for consolidated governments. But a May 30 letter from the Legislative Counsel to Peake explains that O.C.G.A. Section 21-2-139 was not pre-cleared by DOJ, meaning it is unenforceable. Apparently the Legislative Counsel doesn’t talk much with the state Attorney General’s office that received that news from the DOJ back in December, well before the effort to move the elections,
Now comes Bibb County trying to do the same thing Augusta-Richmond County attempted to do. The DOJ told Augusta, “no” because the move to July diluted minority voting strength. It had to hold its elections in November. And that’s essentially what would’ve happened here.
Virgil Adams, the county attorney, has requested a quick decision from the DOJ, hopefully by the end of next week. The July elections are now off the table and the only item for the DOJ to consider is partisan or nonpartisan elections. Presumably in November.
Some might suggest a September election date. That is not recommended because the DOJ would have to approve that change, too. If that decision were made today by the Bibb County Board of Elections, to hold balloting in September, DOJ would have 60 days to render its blessing or curse. That would put the Board of Elections in an untenable situation. You can’t plan an election in a month’s time. However, the Supreme Court wild card still exists. If it strikes down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, pre-clearance disappears into the sands of time and all bets are off.
Even if that wild card is played, the Board of Elections should start planning a November election and cut the confusion for candidates and voters.