Georgia asks appeals court to return CPS election to ballot

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia is asking a federal appeals court to postpone the election of civil service commissioners to the November ballot, a week after a federal judge found that the election of the five commissioners to the statewide had illegally diluted black votes.

Attorney General Chris Carr on Monday asked the 11th United States Circuit Court of Appeals to allow elections to be held for two commissioners after U.S. District Judge Steven Grimberg ordered the state not to preparing ballot papers for elections.

The state argues that Grimberg fundamentally erred in his decision by finding that race, not Democratic partisanship, led to the defeat of black voters’ favorite candidates. He also says the judge overruled the finding that only state law and not the state constitution requires statewide elections.

Grimberg ruled that the current system that elects commissioners statewide but requires them to live in a particular district illegally handicaps candidates favored by blacks, and that they would have a better chance of winning if only voters from a district voted for each candidate.

The state asked the 11th Circuit to issue a stay by Friday, in time to allow ballots to be printed with the commission’s two elections. Plaintiffs have been instructed to respond to the state’s arguments by Wednesday.

The plaintiffs said the district elections would bring the concerns of black voters to the forefront, including low-income people who pay high utility bills. The lawsuit was filed by leaders of the NAACP, Georgia Conservation Voters and Black Voters Matter. Brionte McCorkle. executive director of Georgia Conservation Voters, called the appeal “nothing more than a desperate last-ditch attempt to restore unjust and discriminatory laws.”

The commission regulates Georgia Power Co. and other utilities, determining how much the companies are allowed to charge millions of ratepayers. The state says the elections should be held with the current candidates. District 3 Commissioner Fitz Johnson and District 2 Commissioner Tim Echols, both Republicans, are up for re-election. Johnson is challenged by Democrat Shelia Edwards while Echols takes on Democrat Patty Durand and Libertarian Colin McKinney.

“The District Court’s decision means that all voters in Georgia will not be able to vote for their utility regulators in the November 2022 election and will be prohibited from electing utility regulators on anything other than a district basis,” the state’s attorneys wrote.

If Grimberg’s decision stands, state lawmakers would have to designate single-member districts for the commission. An election would take place later.

Earlier this year, another federal judge allowed Georgia’s congressional elections to be held in redrawn precincts, even though he initially concluded the redistricting was likely to unlawfully harm black voters. It followed a series of higher court rulings that said it’s more important to allow elections to go ahead, even though district lines may violate federal law. Suffrage advocates have denounced the trend, saying it allows states to conduct illegal elections and raising fears that the US Supreme Court could oust the part of the Voting Rights Act that allows people to win lawsuits challenging constituency lines and other voting arrangements.

Grimberg explicitly rejected the state’s argument that black voters end up on the losing side for partisan reasons that aren’t racially motivated.

“They don’t select Democratic candidates because they’re Democrats; they select Democratic candidates because they perceive, rightly or wrongly, that those candidates will be more sensitive to issues that affect black voters,” Grimberg wrote.

But the state argues that Grimberg’s decision did not do enough to determine that race led to partisan choices.

“If electoral defeats are caused by partisan politics and not ‘an electoral community’. . . motivated by racial bias,’ then there is no unlawful dilution of the vote and the plaintiffs are not harmed,” the state argued in its appeal to the 11th Circuit.

The state argues that Grimberg erred in not allowing the state Supreme Court to rule on whether the state constitution requires a general election and wrongly changed the form of government from Georgia.

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