UPDATE: Kemp signs off on Republican-backed Cobb County school board map

The issue remains somewhat unsettled because of ongoing legal issues
The Cobb County school board map proposed by Sen. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, passed the Georgia Senate and House of Representatives this month, and will head to Gov. Brian Kemp for approval. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Photo provided

Credit: Photo provided

The Cobb County school board map proposed by Sen. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, passed the Georgia Senate and House of Representatives this month, and will head to Gov. Brian Kemp for approval. (Courtesy photo)

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday signed a bill backed by Republicans approving a new map for the Cobb County Board of Education’s voting districts.

“It will become the operative map for the 2024 election cycle,” explained Daniel White, an attorney for the Cobb County Board of Elections.

But an ongoing legal battle keeps the issue murky.

Voting rights groups sued the Board of Elections in 2022 after a new school board map was adopted, alleging it was discriminatory and diluted the voting power of people of color. U.S. District Court Judge Eleanor L. Ross found in December 2023 that the groups could likely prove in court that “race was a predominant motivating factor” behind the map. She granted a preliminary injunction, which required lawmakers to adopt a temporary map for this year’s election while the case continues.

The Cobb County School District, which was not named as a defendant in the case, has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to defending the original map. In several instances over the course of the suit, judges have ruled that the school district does not have any liability or legal standing in the case. But in a seemingly contradictory order this month, appellate judges granted the school district’s request to stay the federal judge’s preliminary injunction — in other words, they put the order for a new map on hold.

But by then, lawmakers were already well on their way to adopting a new map. The map, Senate Bill 338 proposed by Sen. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, passed in the Georgia Senate last week. It passed in the House of Representatives on Monday, along with House Bill 989, a proposed map by Rep. Teri Anulewicz, D-Smyrna. Both maps were part of a slate of local issues the House tackled in a single vote.

The Cobb County school board map proposed by state Sen. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, passed both the Georgia Senate and House of Representatives this month. If signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, it will likely be the map in place during the 2024 election cycle. (Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

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Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

The school board is the last remaining governing body in Cobb County where Republicans hold a majority, which has heightened interest in how the district boundaries are drawn.

Setzler has said his map meets criteria set by the federal judge and reduces the number of people moved into a new district. But critics such as Cobb students with the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition said in a statement after Monday’s vote the map does “as little as possible to reduce gerrymandering in the district.”

Anulewicz’s map more closely resembles the district map from 2012 while protecting communities of interest, like cities and high school districts, she said.

The Board of Elections entered into a settlement agreement with the voting rights groups that prompted lawmakers to create a new map. Under the agreement, both parties would have had the opportunity to dispute the lawmakers’ map. Now, because of the appellate court’s stay on the injunction, Setzler’s map will most likely stand — pending new developments in court. There could be a challenge to that map if the stay is lifted, or the governor’s signature could spur a new round of motions or a new lawsuit, White said.

“Once the governor signs it into law, it becomes valid law until some court says otherwise, so the Cobb County Board of Elections will move forward with implementing those maps,” White said.

The appellate judges have yet to issue a final ruling on the school district’s appeal of the injunction. Attorneys for the district remain confident in their legal position, said Cobb’s Chief Strategy and Accountability Officer John Floresta in an emailed statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Although we aren’t at the finish line quite yet, we are increasingly confident the Cobb taxpayer will determine who represents them on the Board of Education,” he stated.

As lawyers debate the issue in legal filings, the other complicating factor is the timeline. The secretary of state has also asked for all redistricting maps to be filed with the state’s voter registration and information system by Feb. 9. Candidates will be qualifying to run for office the week of March 4, at which point they will need to know which parts of the county they could be eligible to represent. The elections office will begin mailing ballots out in early April, White said.

The primary election will take place on May 21.