Friday morning, just as it seemed all right to come out into the June sunshine and plan a November election as proposed by the Bibb County Commission that day, another element of doubt popped into the already abstract picture. Just hours before the Board of Elections’ scheduled meeting, a lawsuit filed by District 4 candidate Mallory Jones hit the doorstep of the Middle Georgia District Court.
Jones is requesting the court overrule commissioners and hold the election on July 16 (which is impossible) or the “earliest possible lawful date,” which would be Sept. 17. Jones also asked the court to intervene and stop the requalifying process. Why requalifying should be of a concern is unknown. He already has opponents for the District 4 seat, although it may be a head ’em-off-at-the-pass move to protect at least one candidate in the two previously unopposed districts.
The U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to such action when it struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act last week. Democrats have charged that state Republicans wanted to hold early elections because historically, turnout among black voters diminishes in summer elections. In response, Republicans have said the only reason they called for early elections was to comply with a state law they later found was unenforceable because it was not approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Even Jones may have been startled by the speed of response, not from the court, but from the Board of Elections. In a bizarre move Thursday afternoon, the Board of Elections voted to void the commissioners’ 3-2 vote for a November date and side with the minority opinion for a Sept. 17 vote. As far as we can tell, the Board of Elections has never thwarted the will of the commissioners. However, the BOE did call for candidates to requalify.
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Supporters of an early election say they want to give the new government more time to get itself together before taking office in January, but they have handed a unique issue to mayoral candidates that could help defy historical voter turnout data and usher in unintended consequences. At worst, the effort will do nothing to inspire trust among what will be the constituents of the most partisan of nonpartisan governments.