GOP Commissioner challenges Cobb County electoral map in new lawsuit

The Cobb commission has been operating in uncertainty under its amended map.



Commissioner Keli Gambrill and Cobb resident Larry Savage filed a lawsuit this week challenging Cobb County’s electoral map, escalating the ongoing partisan conflict over the board’s makeup.

Gambrill, one of two Republican commissioners in Cobb, has been an outspoken opponent of the board’s unprecedented move last year to amend its own district map in order to keep Democratic Commissioner Jerica Richardson in office. But the dispute dates back to last spring, when Republicans in the state Legislature adopted electoral lines that would have effectively disqualified Richardson from holding office halfway through her 4-year elected term.

The lawsuit asks Cobb County Superior Court Judge Ann Harris to demand that the county retract its amendment of the electoral map and acknowledge the map passed by state lawmakers as the legal map of the county.

It also seeks to force the county to “ensure that only those commissioners who are validly, legally (and) constitutionally permitted” to serve on the Board of Commissioners are allowed to do so, taking direct aim at Richardson’s seat. If the lawsuit succeeds, political control of Cobb’s board would be split 2-2 between the two major parties until a new election can be held in a heavily Democratic District 2.

The lawsuit says Gambrill is pursuing legal action as a county resident, not in her official capacity as a commissioner. She did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication Friday afternoon.

Savage, who filed a similar lawsuit at the end of last year and then withdrew it, lives in the disputed area: District 2 under the county-adopted map or District 3 under the state’s map.

Defendants named in the suit include Cobb County and the Cobb County Board of Elections, which the lawsuit attempts to bar from certifying elections under the county’s map.

The Cobb commission has been operating in uncertainty under its amended map while state officials have decried it as unconstitutional and not legally binding.

The lawsuit cites unofficial opinion letters issued by the Office of Legislative Counsel, the Secretary of State’s office and the Attorney General’s office, all of which say the county does not have the power to amend its own map.

County Attorney Bill Rowling issued a written statement in response to the suit: “We are aware of this filing and, as with a previous case, look forward to discussing the merits of the Board of Commissioners’ action in court.”

Previously, Rowling has said the county can legally change its district lines under the home rule provision of the state constitution.

Lawmakers at the state Capitol are looking to void Cobb County’s move with two recent bills that would explicitly prohibit counties from amending their own electoral maps and change the county’s districts back to what state lawmakers passed last year.

The map dispute has enflamed partisan tensions on the Board of Commissioners. At the first meeting operating under the county’s map, Republican Commissioners JoAnn Birrell and Gambrill protested the legality of the board’s makeup by refusing to vote on county business.