Three candidates who thought they’d won district seats on the Long County Commission voiced complaints recently after the primary-election results were invalidated by a U.S. District Court ruling.
At last week’s commission meeting, Robert Long, Dwight Gordon and Gerald Blocker expressed dismay over the county’s obligation to hold a new district election after proposed district maps were found to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The would-be commissioners said their views were not adequately presented by the attorneys who represented the commission, the board of education and the board of elections before a three-judge panel.
“No attorney or anybody else in the courtroom asked to keep the election results. If we would have known that no one was going to do this, we would have had an attorney there representing us,” Blocker said.
He added that governmental bodies should have asked the court to consider allowing the results from the first election to stand.
“Not one person in that courtroom represented us,” Long said.
County Attorney Jay Swindell told Long, Gordon and Blocker that the commission and the BoE were in a no-win situation. If the county had not proposed new district maps or if the districts had been left as they were, the election results could have been challenged.
Board of Elections Chairwoman Vanessa Cunningham agreed with Swindell. She said that if the changes had not been proposed, the county would have been in violation of the state’s “one person, one vote” guideline. Swindell said the redistricting plan was submitted because county officials felt it was the best option to avoid an election-results challenge in court.
Gordon said the election should have been delayed until after the proposed district maps were approved.
The commission and the BoE requested that the Department of Justice review and reconsider the decision, Swindell said. If the first election results are allowed to stand, the county’s request for the U.S. District Court to act on the matter will be withdrawn.
After the meeting, Commission Chairman Bobby Walker said he wanted to clear up questions regarding the cost for a new election. No cost will be passed on to the county when the Reapportionment Office of the Georgia General Assembly redraws new district maps. The maps will be redrawn in Atlanta, but information used to redraw them will be based on updated Census figures and information provided by Long County. Additionally, all candidates who paid an initial qualifying fee will not have to pay a new fee for the upcoming election. However, any new candidates who decide to run will be required to pay a qualifying fee.
In an Oct. 3 called meeting, the commission unanimously passed its fiscal year 2013 budget with a millage rate of 15.71, Walker said. The millage rate has remained constant for the three previous budgets.
Because the county tax digest had not been completed, Walker said, the budget was not passed and posted within 30 calendar days of it being adopted, which is a state requirement.
“This was regrettable, but couldn’t be helped. We have made adjustments with those parties involved in getting this information to us and with this new timeline, it shouldn’t happen again,” Walker said.