|A federal appeals court on Friday ordered that statewide elections for two Georgia public service commissioners be put back on the November ballot, only a week after a federal judge postponed the elections after finding that electing the five commissioners statewide illegally diluted Black votes.
A three judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the lower court’s order after an appeal by the state, which follows a U.S. Supreme Court decision saying judges shouldn’t order changes close to elections.
The 2-1 split decision came at the state’s deadline for finalizing ballots ahead of the election, so there is enough time to print ballots before the first ballots are mailed to voters living outside the country in late September.
District 3 Commissioner Fitz Johnson and District 2 Commissioner Tim Echols, both Republicans, are seeking reelection to six-year terms. Johnson is being challenged by Democrat Shelia Edwards while Echols faces Democrat Patty Durand and Libertarian Colin McKinney.
Circuit Judges Robert Luck and Adalberto Jordan found that U.S. District Judge Steven Grimberg’s decision came too close to the election, that having Johnson and Echols remain on the commission past the end of their terms is an improper fundamental alteration of the state’s election system, and that not only did Grimberg need to issue his decision before the ballot printing deadline but far enough in advance “to allow for meaningful appellate review.”
Friday’s decision is not the 11th Circuit’s final word on Grimberg’s decision, but only a stay. Luck and Jordan clearly anticipate the plaintiffs will appeal to the nation’s highest court, writing in a short opinion that “if we are mistaken on this point, the Supreme Court can tell us.”
Circuit Judge Robin Rosenbaum dissented, saying the other judges were extending the doctrine barring changes close to an election to a whole new category of cases without “a sufficient explanation.” She said the majority is, in effect, letting the state conduct an election under a system that a judge already determined is illegally discriminatory.