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Attorneys argue over Georgia county's move to redraw its own electoral map

Taylor Croft, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

ATLANTA — Attorneys presented arguments in court Monday in the ongoing battle over the disputed Cobb County Commission electoral map, which could be resolved by the judge’s ruling by the end of the year.

Cobb Superior Court Judge Ann Harris listened to the arguments over whether counties have the power to amend state-approved district maps under the home rule provision of the Georgia Constitution. The arguments often turned micro over definitions of certain words in the law. At one point, the county attorney referred to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, and the plaintiff’s attorney actually brought one into the courtroom.

“We’re not here to split hairs on what the dictionary, what Webster’s says,” said Ray Smith, attorney for plaintiffs David and Catherine Floam, who live in the disputed area and are arguing that the county doesn’t have the right to change maps approved by the state Legislature. “We’re here today representing constituents in Cobb County who were unjustly represented by their elected representatives due to maps that were illegally drawn (by county officials).”

The board has been operating under an electoral map its own Democratic majority passed last year in a novel move to undo the state Legislature-passed district map that would have drawn Democratic Commissioner Jerica Richardson out of her district midway through her term.

Richardson has since launched her campaign for U.S. Congress in the 6th district, which is currently held by Republican U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick. A recent federal ruling sent Georgia’s congressional map back to the state Legislature to be redrawn, which lawmakers will do at the end of November.

Legal experts dispute whether Richardson would have to vacate her position on the County Commission immediately under the state map, as the county’s attorneys contend, or if she could stay in office through the end of her term.


During Monday’s hearing, Smith argued state law does not give the county the right to draw its own map, and allowing the county to do so “opens up a whole Pandora’s box of what home rule can and cannot do.”

“Any authority for a county board of commissioners to undertake its own redistricting map must be derived from an explicit statutory or constitutional grant of authority,” Smith said. “The county did not have authority here.”

But county attorney Elizabeth Monyak argued the intent of the home rule provision in the state constitution was to give counties broad powers — except for a few exceptions, which she said don’t apply in this case.

Those exceptions in the constitution say counties cannot use home rule powers to affect “any elective county office” or “the composition, form, procedure for election.” But Monyak argued the county’s new map does not change the fundamental office or its duties, and the map does not constitute an election procedure.


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