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Justice Department Reviewing Nonpartisan Elections | News

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Justice Department Reviewing Nonpartisan Elections
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The fate of nonpartisan local elections now rests in the hands of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Last week, state lawmakers approved nonpartisan elections for the new consolidated Macon and Bibb County government, the Bibb County Board of Education and the Macon Water Authority.

But federal law stipulates that any voting changes in Georgia must be approved by the Justice Department.

After Gov. Nathan Deal signed the nonpartisan elections into law, Bibb County Attorney Virgil Adams was required to submit the measures to the Department of Justice. Adams said Tuesday the laws have been submitted, noting that justice has a 60-day period to review the measures and determine whether to approve.

Meanwhile, opposition continues to grow over nonpartisan elections. A group called Citizens Against Non-Partisan Elections in Macon-Bibb, Ga., fired off a letter to Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez, chief of the department's voting section and civil rights division.

"This is an urgent request for you to reject the pre-clearance of the recently passed Senate Bills (25, 26, 30 & 31) in the Georgia General Assembly that moves all nonpartisan elections for members of consolidated governments, from November to July, and that such elections shall be considered county elections...," the letter says.

That action, the letter says, "...drastically decreases African American voting strength. The voter turnout for the last election (2012) clearly shows that the July voter turnout was 40.34 % and in November the turnout was 73.28 %. These statistics strongly point out that elections in July will significantly dilute black voter strength."

The letter also notes that the Senate bills were sponsored "by five white legislators who represent a very small land area of Bibb County and all but one of them live outside Bibb County, namely, Senator Burt Jones, Senator Cecil Staton, Representative  Bubber Epps and Representative Robert Dickey, who are all Republicans..."

The only execption, the letter continues, is Rep. Allen Peake, "a Republican who lives within the county. This is a situation where officials not affected by the change to nonpartisan elections in Bibb are imposing this veiled plan to decrease black voter strength on an area they do not live in," it says.

"We see this as an outright attempt to abridge voter demographics to overwhelmingly support Republican interests...," the letter says.

In addition to the Citizens Against Nonpartisan Elections, Macon City Council adopted a resolution during Tuesday's meeting asking the Justice Department to block nonpartisan elections.

The council resolution contains some of the objections stated in the citizens letter.

State Rep. James Beverly, who voted against the measures during the General Assembly votes, joined the opposition. He also said that state lawmkers who don't live in Bibb County pushed  the measures through.

"The representatives who did that, they represent about 35 percent of Bibb County," Beverly said.

"Nikki Randall and I, Rep. Randall and I, actually represent 65 percent of Bibb County. We weren't consulted on it. The mayor (Robert Reichert) had an email, I suspect that went out a few months ago, talking about another way to do it and that wasn't considered," he said.

"So we have four representatives, three representatives, one of which lives in the community, two of which don't, making decisions about the majority of Bibb County," Beverly said.

State Rep. Allen Peake, a major supporter of nonpartisan elections, said throughout the process that opponents have a right to express their opinions.

Macon council member Elaine Lucas says some people have also voiced concerns about the district layouts.

"What happened was the Republicans paired high-performing Republican districts, precincts, with low-performing Democratic precincts, which sets it up for the Republicans to out-vote the Democrats the way that it was drawn. I think that is just awful. I think it's trickery," says Lucas.

Representatives of the Justice Department haven't responded to 13WMAZ's request for an update on the measure.

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