Federal Department of Justice Postpones Macon-Bibb County Elections

The federal Justice Department has stepped in and postponed the consolidated government elections of Macon-Bibb County until the legislative delegation answers a list of questions on the reasoning and timing of holding the non-partisan questions.  The action is based on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which Georgia is one of nine states that has to get clearance by the federal Department of Justice to make sure that minorities are not being disenfranchised.

The whole uproar stemmed from the General Assembly’s action to make the City of Macon and Bibb County a consolidated government with non-partisan elections to be held this July.  That upset a few Democrats down there, and they pressed the Justice Department to act.  From WMAZ:

The Democrats argued that holding the election in July would reduce the impact of black voters who, statistics show, are less likely to vote in summer elections. They also argued for partisan elections, continuing the practice in the city of Macon and Bibb County.

The department has given the Bibb County legislative delegation 60 days to answer a list of questions and requests for materials related to the move to a nonpartisan July election.

If local legislators don’t submit that information by the deadline, the Justice Dept. said it would rule without any local input.

That 60-day deadline extends beyond the original scheduled date of the election, July 16.

There is a link to the letter from the Department of Justice on WMAZ’s website as well.

21 comments

  1. taylor says:

    Well, surely the General Assembly intends to make all local races across the state non-partisan. Just an oversight.

    • drjay says:

      virtually all “city” elections are non partisan in ga, including the consolidated gov’ts in places like augusta and athens–and st sen buddy carter has introduced a bill in the past that would give counties the option making offices like coroner and surveyor and the like non partisan if they chose to do so…

      • drjay says:

        also i don’t know if every county does it, but the non partisan races in chatham county are held in july in conjunction with the primaries…

        • greencracker says:

          From what I understand, proposals to make all local races nonpartisan ain’t going to roll:

          Pretty much every place from the fall line northward, an R by your name is an asset on a ballot. People from north of the Fall Line pretty much run things in the Legislature and erasing those “R”s is not a priority.

          • drjay says:

            the way the carter proposal was explained to me was that it would empower the counties (i presume by referendum, or local legislation) with the option to make races non partisan, but would not require them to do so…

  2. Andre says:

    I’m a bit confused here.

    Under the Voting Rights Act (VRA), Georgia must obtain pre-clearance from the Department of Justice (DOJ) before any changes to election law may be made so that the DOJ can ensure minority voters are not being disenfranchised.

    In the WMAZ-TV article posted above, “Democrats argued that holding the [Macon-Bibb County] election in July would reduce the impact of black voters who, statistics show, are less likely to vote in summer elections.”

    Could not the argument be made that by failing to vote in summer elections, black voters (like myself) are effectively disenfranchising themselves?

    Is it not true that by being less likely to vote in summer elections, black voters reduce their own impact?

    I’m just trying to understand why blacks freely choosing not to vote in summer elections is a violation of the VRA.

    • Nathan says:

      Good question. In my mind, wouldn’t that also call into question on whether Georgia’s general primary, normally held in June or July, is disenfranchising black voters?

      • Read a book. You can argue whether it’s still really necessary, but this type of argument was very effectively used by lots of people with bad intentions which led to the creation of the VRA in the first place.

  3. greencracker says:

    The VRA speaks a bit to motives for the change and outcomes from the change.

    – is the change being made in order to dilute a voting block?
    – does the change have the effect of helping a minority (in this case, GOP and/or white folks) hold onto power in a place that doesn’t vote for it?

    In this case, Bibb County has a majority-GOP legislative delegation, due to a state Senate district being just barely poked into north Bibb. But the county has a majority-black population and votes Democrat.

    DOJ simply asked for more information, they didn’t nix the vote. But because of the time crunch, it’s a de-facto nixing.

    Some of the further info they’ve asked for looks like they may be thinking the Bibb legislative delegation did this with less-than-pure intentions: to move elections to a date when fewer black voters show.

      • 52 black, 44 white as a whole – I believe voting age population is majority non-black, but I’m not certain on that.

        As far as non-partisan elections go – I think they’re fine for offices that get a lot of attention – big city mayor’s races, small town races etc. But they worry me for things like school board or sheriff in a big county – almost no one pays attention to those races and the candidates typically can’t raise that much money. I like having a primary – whether it’s a Republican county or a Democratic one, with a party structure that can police the process and ensure that the truly bad candidates don’t get through.

        Of course, you could have what’s happened in Clayton county happen even with a party structure “policing”, and I’m sure there are plenty of crazy Republicans in GOP-dominated counties serving on school boards and otherwise, but I think it’s better than going non-partisan in these types of races.

        • drjay says:

          ok so i was off a bit, my wife lived there for about a year when we were dating, but that was almost 20 years ago…

          • Doug Deal says:

            drjay, you were correct, in 2000. Bibb County was 50% white and 47% black. In 2010, the numbers Chris gave are current.

            Of course race is becoming more an more meaningless. What is child of a black and white person? What about the child of that person a another black or white person? The same goes for Hispanic ethnicity.

            I think some of the numbers are changing because of the greater acceptance of putting something non-white as one’s race on census forms. If you look at my grandfather’s (mother’s side) entry in the 1910 census, he is listed as mixed race. If you look him up in the 1920 census, he is white. A portion of my father’s ancestry Cherokee Indian, but they still listed themselves as white on the census. Today, they might list themselves as America Indian.

            Hopefully this leads to a collapse of racial politics and we can stop living like it is still 1965.

  4. Doug Deal says:

    As a resident of the nascent county-city of Macon, I wish Washington would get out of our business and let us remove the yoke of RvsD elections. The problems/solutions at the city level are completely different than those at the state and national level and adherence to the party system is counter-productive to the interest of the citizens.

  5. seenbetrdayz says:

    The simple solution is to have everyone vote on what season of the year they would like to have an election.

    The vote is scheduled for . . . — well ****, that’s not gonna work.

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