Ready, set --- qualify! Or not.
A late afternoon reprieve has exempted the Fayette County Board of Commission candidates from today’s qualifying.
According to county administrator Jack Krakeel, on Tuesday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Timothy C. Batten, Sr. signed an order which will delay qualifying for the commission candidates for seven days. During that time frame, Krakeel says they expect to hear from the Justice Department on the subject of the county’s newly redistricted map.
Batten’s order halts qualifying until Wednesday, March 30 through June 1 for county commission candidates only.
As of Tuesday morning, the Fayette County Board of Elections was scrambling to get last minute information, permissions or at least some direction, from any source on how to handle this week’s candidate qualifying, but were not getting the answers they need.
“I don’t care what map anyone uses,” said election board supervisor Tom Sawyer “I just need to have a legal map to use.” Sawyer says its the first time in his 30 years with the county he’s ever faced this kind of problem.
“There’s just no procedure for this.”
Maps for both the Fayette County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education are in legal purgatory and the board of election members are scrambling to figure out where candidates will have to live if they want to run for a governmental seat.
Sawyer said that, most years, qualifying is set for April, but in the year after a census year, qualifying is reset for May, which has given the boards at least some time to try to figure out the mess. Not enough time, though.
Currently, the county commission is enjoined from using its old map (three districts and two at-large) by a judge’s consent decree stating the map was unconstitutional and in violation of “one person, one vote” proposition. With the new proposed five districts map (not district voting map) at the Justice Department for pre-clearance, the only indication from justice is that ‘it looks good,’ the county commission doesn’t have a viable map.
“If we use a map that hasn’t been pre-cleared, it’s illegal,” said Sawyer on Tuesday morning.
With three seats up for reelection, Robert Horgan’s Post One, Herb Frady’s Post Two and Lee Hearn’s Post Three, and at least two people- David Barlow and Randy Ognio- definitely announced to run for a particular seat, it was critical to figure out what to do next. Frady has just announced he won’t be seeking reelection after five terms in office.
Despite the ongoing conflict over the new map, the board of education is still in better shape than the board of commissioners. They at least have an old map that has not yet been deemed unconstitutional.
At last night’s called Board of Elections meeting, Sawyer said he anticipated they were going to vote to use the old, at large map for board of education since it is the only precleared map. That means candidates are going to have to double check with the elections office before they declare if their intent is to run against a particular incumbent.
In January, when the board of education opted to settle their portion of the federal lawsuit filed by the Fayette County branch of the National Association for the Advance of Colored People that claimed the county’s at-large voting systems violated the Voting Rights Act, they also opted to implement district voting, divided the map into five districts and agreed to hold a special election for the District 5 seat, currently held by Leonard Presberg. Presberg was appointed to fill the term of the late Dr. Sam Tolbert and would normally have completed the entire term in 2014, but the agreement has him competing in a special election in November.
Batten signed the consent decree at that time, settling the suit. The county commission attorneys, however, filed their own argument that the county never had a chance to present its case and the suit was filed against both the county and the board of education and the BOE didn’t have the authority to make the settlement. In April, Batten reversed the order and set a new hearing date - which has been moved twice and is finally slated for May 30- a week after the qualifying periods are done.
Now, the board of education will probably still be using old three-district, two at-large map. Though that may be deemed to have the same constitutional problem that the commission map has at the hearing next week and the board of education’s bid for redistricting hasn’t even made its way to the justice department for preclearance.
“Whatever we use, we’ve got a problem,” said Sawyer.
Right now, Janet Smola, Post One, Terri Smith, Post Two, and Marion Key, Post 3, are up for relection. Announced candidates Sharon Collins, Mary Kay Bacallao, and Dr. Barry Marchman now don’t know which district they will be in or who they will be running against.
While it’s true that a challenge or lawsuit can be filed at any time regarding election results, this year’s quandary is almost guaranteed to cause a problem. If the qualifying or election results are challenged, a special election will have to be scheduled for the board of education and the county commission.
Sawyer estimates the cost at approximately $90,000 and that won’t account for the money candidates will be spending on the initial campaign and election in the way of marketing, advertising and fees.
Constitutional and non-partisan office candidates aren’t affected by all this geographic geometry.
Up for grabs this election year are two U.S. Congressional seats - Lynn Westmoreland’s (R) District 3 and David Scott’s (D) District 13. Westmoreland is already facing announced competition from Kent Kingsley for the seat. State senators Ronnie Chance (R-16th), Valencia Seay (D-34th) could also be facing opposition, though there have been no official announcements.
State House Representative (D-64th) Virgil Fludd, Representative Matt Ramsey (R-72nd) and Representative John P. Yates (R-73rd) are all looking for relection. State Rep. Billy Horne, (R-71st), will not be seeking reelection in 2012. Additionally, the legislature has created a new state House seat, the 63rd, which Fayette County resident Ron Mabra has already announced he intends to seek.
Also up for reelection this year are Sheriff Wayne Hannah, State Court Judge Carla McMillan, Magistrate Judge Kathy Brown Valencia, Magistrate Robert “Bob” Rupenthal- who is looking at announced competition from attorney Stephen Ott-, and Magistrate Judge James A. White.
Magistrate Judge Joe Tinsley has retired and Peachtree City Municipal Court Judge Pro Hac Jason B. Thompson has announced his candidacy for that seat.
Superior Court judges W. Fletcher Sams, Robert “Mack” Crawford and Tommy R. Hankinson have state qualifying offices coming up this year. So does District Attorney Scott Ballard and Clerk of Court Sheila Studdard and Probate Judge Ann Jackson. Tax Commissioner George Wingo has already announced his intention of seeking reelection. Solicitor General James Inagawa and County Coroner C.J. Mowell are also running for relection.
Qualifying starts today and runs until Friday at noon. Republican candidates can qualify at GOP headquarters on Ga. Hwy. 85 in Fayetteville, Democratic candidates can qualify at offices of Fayette County Democratic Committee offices at 101 Devant Street, Suite 501 in Fayetteville during the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. today, Thursday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. Non-partisan candidates can qualify at the Board of Elections offices.