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Ruling on Cobb electoral map could postpone 2024 commission elections

Written by Taylor Croft | Jun 26, 2024 | Uncategorized | Print PDF

By Taylor Croft

June 20, 2024

The Cobb County Board of Elections asked a superior court judge to postpone the elections for Commission Districts 2 and 4 to early 2025 if she determines the county’s district map is unconstitutional.

Alicia Adams sued the elections board when it disqualified her from running for District 2 commission seat this year because she does not live in the district under the county’s current map, which many contend is unlawful because it was passed by county commissioners, not state lawmakers.

Adams asked the judge in a Thursday hearing to rule the map is unconstitutional, order the May primary election null and void, order the Board of Elections to conduct special elections for the affected districts, and allow her to run for office.

Attorneys did not argue whether the unprecedented county-passed map is legal in Thursday’s hearing, but attorneys on both sides urged the judge to rule on that issue. Instead, arguments centered on how to remedy the situation that has now impacted ongoing commission elections.

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“We’re not interested in finger-pointing,” said Elections Attorney Daniel White. “We’re not carrying anybody’s water anymore. We just want this to be solved.”

The ongoing legal battle dates back to 2022 when the County Commission passed its own map using a novel legal argument in rebuke of Republican state lawmakers who drew a sitting Democratic commissioner out of her district halfway through her term. A Cobb Superior Court judge ruled the county’s map was unconstitutional in a lawsuit that the county appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court this year, where it was dismissed on procedural grounds without ruling on the constitutionality of the county’s map.

Because the county map has not been struck down, the Board of Elections used it for the May primary elections while it was under appeal to the Supreme court.

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“The Board of Elections has not and will not take a position on the constitutionality of the home rule map,” White said. “And that’s not their place to decide those type of things.”

White did not defend the map and instead largely agreed with the plaintiff’s attorney, Chuck Boring, on getting the case resolved and finding the proper remedy should the map be deemed unlawful. They also agreed that this is the proper case for the judge to do so after much back and forth with her on procedural concerns.

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If Judge Kellie Hill agrees and determines the county-passed map is unconstitutional, she could order the May primary elections for District 2 and 4 void and redone ahead of the November election — a timeline White argued would be extremely difficult for the elections department to execute.

“I don’t see any practical way to have a special election primary before” November, White said.

If the map is thrown out, White asked Hill to instead postpone the elections until January or February 2025, after the general election has passed. In that scenario, the sitting commissioners in those districts would continue to serve “until their respective successors are elected and qualified,” White said, citing county code.

The judge questioned whether this case is the proper avenue for her to rule. Given the Georgia Supreme Court’s dismissal of the prior lawsuit on procedural issues, she said she wants to ensure she rules correctly.

If she rules against the plaintiff, Boring said he intends to appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, meaning the issue could fall back before the justices after they expressed serious concerns with the county map in their initial opinion.

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But if the judge rules in favor of Adams and against the Board of Elections, it appears unlikely that the board would appeal that decision, given their unwillingness to defend the map.

Similarly, the Board of Elections opted to settle litigation over the Cobb County School Board map rather than defend it, choosing a position of neutrality that angered the Board of Education’s attorneys last year.

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While the county attorney’s office is not involved in the Adams case, it filed a briefing with the court. But no attorney representing the county appeared Thursday to present arguments — a move Philip Savrin, an attorney for Commissioner Keli Gambrill, said “speaks volumes” about their position.

“Either it’s an election year, so they don’t want to take a position, or they know what they did — it could be both — they know what they did was beyond what the law allows,” Savrin said after the hearing.

The county attorney’s office declined to comment.

Taylor Croft

Taylor Croft is the Cobb County government reporter on the local news team.