ATLANTA – A federal court ruled Friday that Georgia’s unusual system for electing members of the state Public Service Commission (PSC) violates the federal Voting Rights Act and must be changed because it dilutes the Black vote.
Under Georgia’s current system, commissioners run statewide but must live in one of five districts.
The PSC regulates the state’s public utilities and sets utility rates.
The General Assembly amended Georgia law in 1998 so that each commissioner had to reside in one of five districts. This year, lawmakers redrew the boundaries of voting districts in Georgia – including the five PSC districts – to reflect new census numbers.
A group of prominent Black leaders who vote in those districts sued the state, claiming that the Black vote had been diluted.
The plaintiffs include Richard Rose, the president of the NAACP’s Atlanta chapter; Wanda Mosley, the national field director at the Black Voters Matter Fund (based in Atlanta); James Woodall, a former president of the NAACP Georgia chapter; and Brionté McCorkle, president of Georgia Conservation Voters.
The court agreed with the challengers, finding that the redrawing of the boundaries of PSC Districts 2 and 3 diluted the Black vote. Those are the two commission seats on the statewide ballot in November.
PSC District 3, which includes parts of Fulton, DeKalb, and Clayton counties, was 52.02% Black, but under the redrawn maps the Black population dropped to 48.79%, the ruling stated.
Friday’s ruling prohibits Georgia Secretary of States Brad Raffensperger from preparing ballots for the November election for the PSC District 2 and 3 races.
The court is postponing the the election until the General Assembly approves a different method of electing commissioners and the court approves the new plan.
“The Court’s decision today vindicates what we have advocated for two years: Georgia’s statewide method of electing Public Service Commissioners unlawfully dilutes the votes of Black Georgians,” said Nicolas Martinez, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
“This ruling immediately impacts how millions of Georgians will elect those powerful officials who determine how much everyday folks must pay for basic utilities. It is one of the most important decisions to advance voting rights in a generation,” Martinez said.
The secretary of state’s office, which has 30 days to appeal Friday’s decision, could not immediately be reached for comment.
PSC spokesman Tom Krause said the commissioners have no comment on the case.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.