SCOTUS puts halt on Georgia election practice over discrimination complaints

The “on – off – on again” November Georgia elections to fill two Public Service Commission (PSC) seats is officially, temporarily off again, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the state’s election practice may, in fact, be discriminatory.

Georgia’s PSC, responsible for setting utility rates, has five seats, and this November, the state was planning to fill two of the vacant ones through a statewide election. And therein lies the problem.

One of those seats is in District 3, comprised of counties in the Atlanta metropolitan area, the New York Times explains. While, overall, one-third of Georgians are black, black voters are in the majority in District 3.

Because the elections are statewide, meaning people outside of District 3 get to choose who will fill the District 3 seat, argued four black voters from the district, the practice dilutes their ability to elect their favored candidates and, thus, it violates the Voting Rights Act.

Judge Steven D. Grimberg agreed with the plaintiffs, ruling in the Federal District Court in Atlanta that the elections for the seats could not be held until state lawmakers did away with statewide voting to fill them.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay in the case, claiming Judge Grimberg’s ruling came too close to the November election. The stay would have allowed the elections to proceed, but the Supreme Court ruled the appeals court’s reasoning was flawed, as state officials had told the judge that they had enough time to adjust the election practice.

“If everyone in the United States got to vote on who Georgia’s U.S. senators would be,” wrote Judge Rosenbaum in her dissent from the appeals court’s ruling, “I don’t think anyone would think that the system was fair to Georgians.” The requirement for a statewide election to elect representatives for distinct districts was, she argued, odd and troubling.

With the stay vacated, the PSC elections could have still been held, but the state withdrew its motion for an emergency stay late on Friday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

“With preparations for the General Election … well underway, it is time to end any uncertainties that threaten to disrupt the administration of Georgia’s elections and risk further confusing Georgia’s voters,” Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a statement. “While we will continue the State’s appeal of the merits of the order, no decision will be reached in time for November’s elections.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case praised the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court took this important step toward ensuring that this November’s PSC elections are not held using a method that unlawfully dilutes the votes of millions of Black citizens in Georgia,” attorney Nico Martinez said. “We look forward to presenting the merits of our case on appeal and are confident the district court’s well-reasoned decision will ultimately be upheld.”

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Melissa Fine

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