As District 2 race goes to runoff, Cobb County map awaits court date

Lawsuit hearing scheduled for June 20, days after runoff Election Day
Candidates Jaha Howard, left, and Taniesha Whorton are in the Democratic runoff for the Cobb Commission District 2 seat. (Contributed)

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Candidates Jaha Howard, left, and Taniesha Whorton are in the Democratic runoff for the Cobb Commission District 2 seat. (Contributed)

Early voting in the runoff election between Cobb County Commission District 2 Democratic candidates begins this week — while the map establishing the district lines remains in legal limbo.

The ongoing lawsuit over a potential District 2 Republican candidate’s disqualification will likely decide the fate of the county’s electoral map. Cobb’s commission passed its own county map in 2022, a rebuke of state lawmakers who had drawn a sitting Democratic commissioner out of her seat during her term earlier that year.

The legality of the county’s move remains in question. Several state officials and a Cobb superior court judge have said the county-drawn map is unconstitutional in a prior lawsuit. The Georgia Supreme Court dismissed that suit on a procedural issue but used its ruling to cast doubt on the county’s position that it has authority to redistrict itself.

Meanwhile, commission elections were held under the county map in the May primary, with the District 2 race headed to a runoff June 18. If a judge with the Cobb Superior Court throws out the map before the November election, it is unclear how the ruling could impact the ongoing election cycle.

In the May Democratic primary election, former school board member Jaha Howard gained the most votes in the District 2 commission race with 33%. Taniesha Whorton, a political newcomer and a law firm executive assistant, surprised many by beating out former state Rep. Erick Allen for second place in the race with 23% of the vote.

Because no candidates in the five-person race received more than 50% of the vote, it will be decided in the June 18 runoff.

Howard and Whorton both live in District 2 in both the county map and the state map, so their qualification would not change even if the map does. Republican candidate Pamela Reardon ran unopposed in the May primary and is currently set to face the Democratic runoff winner in November.

But their elections could end up being thrown out in court alongside the county map.

Jake Evans, an elections law attorney in Georgia, said that because eligible voters in District 2 would shift drastically if the county’s map is thrown out in favor of the state’s map, the election “almost necessarily would have to be redone.”

“If they flip the districts and the other district was the right district, and this was the wrong district, I mean, you’re gonna have pervasive amounts of people who are not eligible voting, or people who are eligible not allowed to vote,” Evans said. “And I have to think the number would be much larger than the margin of victory.

“For everyone involved — the voters, the candidates, the people outside the district that want to know what’s going to be done — it needs to be resolved very expeditiously for people to have confidence in the outcome.”

Jake Evans speaks during a state ethics commission meeting on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, in Atlanta in this AJC file photo. (Hyosub Shin /


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Jason Shepherd, a political science professor at Kennesaw State University and former chair of the Cobb GOP, agreed that an election do-over is a real possibility if the map is ruled to be unconstitutional.

“Most other attorneys I have discussed the case with seem to agree with me that we would have to restart the election process for the district, which may include reopening qualifying,” Shepherd said. “We are so much in uncharted territory.”

Alicia Adams tried to run for the District 2 seat as a Republican but was disqualified by the Board of Elections because she does not live in the district under the county map. But she does live in the district under the state-passed map, which many contend should be the legal map of the county.

Others also tried to qualify for office but were turned away for not living in the district under the county map.

A judge could consider that the election needs to be redone even if both parties have candidates within the legal map because “other possible candidates may have been discouraged from qualifying based on the decision by the Board of Elections to use the county map,” Shepherd said.

Adams challenged her disqualification to Cobb Superior Court and is hoping the judge will order the election be halted and rule the map is unconstitutional.

Her attorney, Chuck Boring, did not answer questions related to the case but said in a statement that the situation “only gets worse the longer it drags out — especially for voters and taxpayers. Every election run using the County’s unconstitutional map is on shaky ground.”

For their part, the Georgia Supreme Court justices urged Cobb County to get the issue settled sooner rather than later, noting the county “has a substantial risk of losing and it seems unwise to ignore that risk.”

Georgia Supreme Court Justice Charlie Bethel listens to arguments during a hearing about Cobb County passing its own district map at the Nathan Deal Judicial Center on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Natrice Miller/ AJC)

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District 2 candidates Howard and Whorton said they are not letting the ongoing case impact their campaigns and will run again if need be.

“I’m going to continue my campaign and continue to urge voters not to think their vote in this runoff doesn’t matter. It does,” Whorton said.

“We’re going to let the judges judge, and we are going to focus on this race and help our citizens of Cobb thrive,” Howard said.

Daniel White, the attorney for the Board of Elections, said he couldn’t offer much insight into how the elections board will move forward in the Adams case but said its position on the map’s legality will remain neutral.

“Generally, our board has and will continue to maintain a neutral position as to the validity of the home rule map,” White said. “We’re currently deciding on how we approach the rest of the Adams case in light of the Supreme Court declining to rule on the ultimate issue.”