For The Record

Federal judge to decide whether to delay qualifying for Georgia PSC seat

By: - February 28, 2022 1:00 am

Georgia Conservation Voters Executive Director Brionté McCorkle is one of the plaintiffs seeking to postpone the March qualifying for a Public Service Commission race until after a trial for a lawsuit that argues the current system illegally dilutes Black voting influence. File photo Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

A U.S. District Court judge is set to decide over the next week whether candidates qualifying for a Georgia Public Service Commission race must wait until after a summer trial for a lawsuit claiming the process of electing utility regulators has largely kept Black people from winning a seat.

Northern District of Georgia Judge Steven Grimberg was asked on Friday to issue a temporary injunction for the March 7-11 qualifying on behalf of four Black Fulton County voters who want elections moved to district-only and for at least one predominantly Black district to be created. In this year’s election, the only PSC seat up for election is District 2, now held by Republican Tim Echols from Hoschton.

The lawsuit contends that having statewide elections determine district public service commissioners as happens now is unconstitutional under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Only one Black commissioner has been elected to the board that decides how much Georgia Power charges its customers for electricity. It also regulates telephone and natural gas rates.

Brionté McCorkle, a plaintiff and executive director of  Georgia Conservation Voters, said it’s a better idea to postpone qualifying since the trial may reshape the PSC elections.

“Qualifying is when the secretary of state actually does the work needed to create ballots of the candidates so this is the best time for him to make a decision to postpone the election,” McCorkle said.

Lawyers for the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office asked the judge on Friday to allow the qualifying and May primary elections to proceed as scheduled since changes would not be difficult before the Nov. 8 general election.

In a court filing, the state’s attorneys claim that the plaintiff’s are trying to disrupt the election process before a final judgment is rendered and that canceling the primary election would cause confusion.

“Their argument was that if we delayed the elections there would be a burden on the state to have to do a special statewide election,” McCorkle said. “Our team said that the state has special elections all the time. This isn’t unprecedented.” 

The next commissioner elected to a six-year term will have a vote on significant decisions, including how much Georgia Power customers pay for the Plant Vogtle expansion.

“They’re making decisions at that point about how much of the cost overruns to allocate customers, which is something that directly impacts, you know, black voters,” McCorkle said.

The five-member board currently has one Black commissioner, Atlanta Republican Fitz Johnson, who was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp in 2021.

On Thursday, the Senate approved a new PSC redistricting map over objections from Democratic lawmakers.

 

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.

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