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SCOTUS Ruling Over Voters Challenging Elections Rules Leaves Uncertainty In Georgia

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


The U.S. Supreme Court issued a rare emergency order late last month and sided with voters who challenged Georgia’s system of electing members to the state’s Public Service Commission.

The case began when a group of Black leaders sued the state, claiming the Republican-controlled General Assembly approved a redistricting plan last year that dilutes the Black vote in two of the five PSC districts.

In early August, a judge postponed two November elections in Georgia for the Public Service Commission, ruling the electoral structure disenfranchises Black voters.

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One week after that, an appeals court reversed that decision, pending the state’s appeal of that first ruling.

Then, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the elections should not proceed while the appeal continues.

Now, Tim Echols, the Jackson County Republican who represents Athens on the Georgia Public Service Commission, is warning that Democrats may be able to pick up some seats.

Echols warned that his seat and that of fellow PSC member Fitz Johnson will not be on the November election ballot and could put them in jeopardy.

“Echols says the legislature will likely have to change the election law before the next PSC elections can be held. Both Echols and Johnson were to have Democratic challengers in elections that will take place nine weeks from today,” local news station WGAU reported.

Echols also slammed Fulton County Superior Court Judge Melynee Leftridge for ruling that Democrat Patty Durand can be on the ballot for the November election for a seat on the GSC.

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There had been questions about her residency in the District she’s running to represent, the PSC district that includes Athens. That post is held by Echols.

“Durand, who is not a plaintiff in the voting rights case, previously lived in Gwinnett County, which was in District 2. Then, before candidate qualifying earlier this year, state lawmakers passed redrawn district maps for all five PSC seats and moved Gwinnett County out of District 2,” the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported.

“On the eve of the May primary, Raffensperger disqualified Durand from the race, arguing she had not lived in the new District 2 long enough to be eligible. But on Election Day, Leftridge allowed Durand to stay on the primary ballot,” the outlet continued.

Durand’s attorney, Bryan Sells, admitted she has not lived in the district long enough to be eligible. However, he attempted to claim Durand is a victim being targeted by Republicans.

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The case is being closely watched because the state’s Public Service Commission, among other responsibilities, sets customers’ utility rates and oversees the construction budget of projects.

Under Georgia’s system, commissioners run statewide but must live in one of five districts.

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“The move was a rare example of the conservative court siding with voters over state officials in disputes regarding election rules, especially when the court is asked to act on an emergency basis. The Supreme Court restored a district court ruling requiring that this year’s election for two of the commission seats be postponed so that the legislature could create a new system for electing commissioners,” CNN reported.

“The unsigned order from the Supreme Court left the door open for the state’s Republican officials to try again to get Georgia’s rules for electing the commission revived for November’s election. However, later Friday, Georgia indicated in a court filing that it would not ask again for the appeals court to halt the trial judge’s order before November’s election while the appeal on the merits played out,” the outlet added.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger can appeal the case to the Georgia Supreme Court depending on what happens during the appeal process.

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