The Bibb County Board of Elections voted 3-1 late Thursday afternoon to hold nonpartisan elections for the new consolidated Macon-Bibb County government in September. The vote capped off a roller-coaster of a day that began with county commissioners calling for the elections to be held in November.
In a day that saw two elections dates under consideration and the filing of a lawsuit aimed at moving up the election date, the elections board eventually settled on Sept. 17 -- the next available date for a special election on the Georgia Secretary of State’s calendar.
Board members Herbert Spangler and Barbara Clowers voted in favor of the September date, along with vice chairman Steve Allen, who initially didn’t want to vote because he was serving as chairman of the meeting in the absence of chairwoman Rinda Wilson.
However, Allen was informed by Bibb County Attorney Virgil Adams that by abstaining, the vote wouldn’t pass, according to board bylaws. Allen subsequently voted in favor of the measure, saying he didn’t want to risk delaying the election.
Board member Ronnie Miley voted no and said he would vote against any nonpartisan election no matter what date is set.
Also Thursday, the Board of Elections designated qualifying to take place at its office, 2445 Pio Nono Ave., on Aug. 5 and Aug. 6 and until noon Aug. 7.
Elections Supervisor Jeanetta Watson said the deadline to register to vote in the elections is Aug. 19. Early voting likely will begin at the end of August, she said, but she hasn’t set a date. If any runoff elections are necessary, they will be Oct. 15.
Allen said several factors influenced the board’s setting of the Sept. 17 date, but a lawsuit filed by announced District 4 commission candidate Mallory Jones III wasn’t one of them.
On Thursday, Jones filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court just after county commissioners voted to recommend the Nov. 5 date. The lawsuit asks the court to move the election to as close to the original July 16 election date as possible. The lawsuit named the commissioners, the board of elections and Watson as co-defendants.
“I am asking for the voters to trust me as a leader to do the people’s business,” Jones said in a statement. “This suit is just part of the job. When elections are canceled, the voters are denied their voice in government. This election is important and the sooner we have it the better.”
Although the election board’s decision likely makes Jones’ request for an earlier date moot, part of his suit also asks the court to prevent officials from reopening qualifying. Attempts to reach Jones for comment regarding the board of elections’ decision were unsuccessful.
The road to setting the election date for the new government has been long.
Bibb County initially set July 16 as the date of the elections, but that decision was held up when the U.S. Department of Justice failed to grant preclearance to the county to hold them. Qualifying for the new offices had already been held, but officials decided Thursday to reopen the process when the new election date was set.
To get on the September ballot, candidates who previously qualified still need to fill out an affidavit, Watson said. Any candidate who wants to withdraw needs to do so before qualifying closes in order to get a refund of their qualifying fee.
Earlier Thursday, county commissioners attempted to settle the question of the election date.
It took commissioners two separate votes to recommend Nov. 5. In the first vote, Commissioners Gary Bechtel and Joe Allen supported holding the election Sept. 17, but that measure failed 3-2, with Commission Chairman Sam Hart, Commissioner Bert Bivins and Commissioner Lonzy Edwards voting no. Those three commissioners then voted in favor of the Nov. 5 date.
But a few hours later, the elections board rejected the county commission’s recommendation.
The date for the Bibb elections has been a central question following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday to eliminate part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which listed Georgia as one of the states under a specific formula that needed preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice to make changes to its voting process. In Bibb’s case, those changes involved changing from partisan to nonpartisan elections.
Because the court ruled the formula to be unconstitutional, it makes the relevant part of the Voting Rights Act moot until Congress devises a new formula.
Commissioners decided earlier this month to postpone the elections that had been set for July 16, because it became untenable to mount an election after the Justice Department delayed its preclearance decision, which was due in early June.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.