The leaders of Bibb County's Democrat Party say they're asking the U.S. Department of Justice to throw out a new law creating nonpartisan elections.
Last week, Gov. Nathan Deal signed three bills covering Bibb County elections.
Under the federal Voting Rights Act, the U.S. Department of Justice must review any charges in Georgia voting laws.
The 24-member committee of the county Democratic Party on Monday released a letter they say will be sent to Thomas E. Perez, a U.S. Attorney with the civil rights division in Washington D.C.
They call the bill "a gross violation of federal law and our shared values of democracy and self-determination."
The bill was passed early this month by the Georgia House and Senate, where it was generally supported by Central Georgia Republicans and opposed by Democrats.
The Democrats' letter argues:
- The bills' backers pulled a "bait and switch." The consolidation bill approved by Bibb County voters in July called for partisan elections; now that's being changed just seven months later.
- The new law calls for countywide elections in July, when turnout is traditionally low. Previously, city and county elections were in November.
- The Republican legislators who crafted the law represented barely a third of the county; four out of five do not live in the county. Some local officials, like Macon Mayor Robert Reichert, say the matter should go up for a referendum.
Bibb County Republicans who backed the nonpartisan elections say they're responding to the will of the people.
Deal signed these three bills last week:
- Senate Bill 26 covers the mayor and county commission under the new consolidated government.
- Senate Bill 30 covers the Bibb County Board of Education.
- And Senate Bill 31 states that members of the Macon-Bibb Water Authority would be elected without party labels.
Senate bills 26-29, which covered various other Bibb positions, including judges' posts and the coroner, haven't reached the governor's office for consideration yet.
The text of the letter:
Thomas E. Perez
Assistant Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Office of the Assistant Attorney General, Main
Washington, D.C. 20530
In July of 2012, the citizens of both the city of Macon and Bibb County voted to consolidate our governments. One stipulation of this consolidation vote was that the public offices would be filled by a partisan election held in November. The charter creating the new government was quite clear on this point. However, in the very next session, the Georgia General Assembly passed SB 25, 26, 30 and 31, which effectively made all municipal elections in Macon-Bibb nonpartisan. In doing so, they have also moved the election from November 2013 to July 2013. Unlike consolidation, this was done without a referendum, and pushed by legislators with very little jurisdiction over Macon-Bibb.
The Bibb County Democratic Party denounces this legislation as a move to subvert the will of the people. The people voted for partisan elections in July of 2012. Since this was a referendum on all of the issues concerning consolidation, there should have been a referendum to change any part it. By passing this legislation a mere seven months after the original vote, the Georgia General Assembly has essentially pulled a "bait-and-switch." We are not familiar enough with our new community for any common wisdom to have developed concerning its new dynamics, much less for it to be the basis of changing our elections.
Not only does this subvert the will of the people, this legislation dilutes the strength of the population. In the 2012 primary elections, which were held in July, the total voter turnout was 40%. In the following general election, which were held in November, the total voter turnout of 73%. Our party is concerned with the severe drop-off in voter participation diluting both the overall voting population, as well as populations protected by the Voting Rights Act. This creates a retrogressive effect on our community's, and our minority voters', ability to elect people who truly serve and represent our interests.
Legislators who crafted this legislation represent only 35% of our community. Four out of five of the legislators who supported this legislation do not even live in Bibb County. They should have consulted with our mayor, city council and count commission. Our mayor is on record that he feels that this should have been put up for a referendum. If the legislators were so certain that they understood the will of their constituents, then we should have been given a referendum. As it stands, it was not, and this represents a gross violation of federal law and our shared values of democracy and self-determination.
In summation, the committee of the Bibb County Democratic Party is prepared to stand against this veiled attempt to thwart democracy. We speak on behalf of constituents County-wide, who have voiced their displeasure to us. We ask that the Justice Department deny preclearance to all legislation involving nonpartisan election in Macon-Bibb.