Confusion, frustration grows over Cobb district map amid qualifying

Election campaigns for District 2 continue despite the map’s legal limbo
Marietta resident Donald Barth holds a sign in protest at a Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration meeting on Tuesday, March 5, 2024 in Marietta. Barth was unable to qualify to run in District 2 because of the ongoing dispute over the county's electoral map. (Taylor Croft/taylor.croft@ajc.com)

Credit: Taylor Croft

Credit: Taylor Croft

Marietta resident Donald Barth holds a sign in protest at a Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration meeting on Tuesday, March 5, 2024 in Marietta. Barth was unable to qualify to run in District 2 because of the ongoing dispute over the county's electoral map. (Taylor Croft/taylor.croft@ajc.com)

Former Marietta Councilman Reginald Copeland walked into the Cobb County Democratic Party headquarters Monday — the first day of candidate qualifying for the 2024 election — to run for the District 2 seat on the Cobb County Board of Commissioners.

But he was turned away. Under the county’s current map, Copeland lives in District 3, not in District 2, and therefore does not qualify to run for election in that district.

“They are violating my constitutional right to run,” Copeland said. “It’s qualifying gone wild.”

Candidates running for office must qualify this week with the political parties for partisan races and with the elections department for non-partisan races to ensure they are eligible to run for office.

Last week, the Cobb Board of Elections announced its intention to use the district map drawn by the County Commission in 2022 — not the map drawn by the Georgia General Assembly, as prescribed by state law.

The county has been in a legal battle ever since Democrat commissioners changed the map so that commissioner Jerica Richardson would not be drawn out of her district mid-term. A Cobb County judge ruled in January that the state-drawn map is legal and the commission had no right to redraw the lines. But the issue has been appealed to the state Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments in April.

Attorneys for the county and election board say all civil judgments under appeal are paused until the higher court weighs in. So even though the judge ruled the county-passed map is unconstitutional, her ruling won’t take affect while the appeal is ongoing. It is unclear when the Supreme Court will issue a ruling.

All of that has led to a uniquely unprecedented and confusing situation in which the county will use its own map in qualifying candidates for the primary election, despite the possibility that the state’s high court will force it to use a different map drawn by the legislature in the general election. The high court won’t even hear arguments in the case until weeks after primary ballots are mailed to uniformed and overseas voters.

The elections board issued a statement saying “multiple parties” have asked the supreme court to determine whether the lower court’s ruling is in effect during the appeal, or if the county should use its own disputed map. The statement says that after consultation with attorneys, the board determined “out of an abundance of caution” to use the county map for qualifying candidates.

The statement does not address what will happen if the high court confirms that the state map is legal.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks to the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce in Tucker on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. (Katelyn Myrick/katelyn.myrick@ajc.com)

Credit: Katelyn Myrick/AJC

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Credit: Katelyn Myrick/AJC

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger condemned the decision to use the county-passed map in a statement Monday.

“The Cobb County Commission’s irresponsible decision to proceed with commission-drawn maps jeopardizes candidate qualifying and puts Cobb County voters at risk for disenfranchisement,” he said. “The court has already ruled that the commission must use the maps enacted by the General Assembly. Their unilateral decision will add confusion, likely errors, and unnecessary burdens on election officials at the 11th hour.

“This decision does not serve the people of Georgia.”

Cobb County Republican Party Chair Salleigh Grubbs said voters are the real losers in the legal battle.

“There are some voters, some residents who will not get to vote for a commissioner for two cycles — taxation without representation,” she said.

Meanwhile, more litigation could be on the way.

State Sen. Ed Setzler sent a letter to the Cobb Board of Elections over the weekend demanding the board use the map passed by the state, and threatening legal action if they qualify candidates under the county-passed map. In an interview, he said the county knows how difficult it is for citizens to legally challenge an issue like this, and is using the courts to “drag this out.”

“There are certain games you don’t play, and I think it’s disappointing that the commission has done this,” Setzler said.

Copeland said he is currently “consulting with attorneys” on whether he should file a lawsuit, but hasn’t made a decision.

Donald Barth is another Marietta resident who was turned away from qualifying for the District 2 seat on Monday because he also lives in the disputed area. He, too, is considering legal action.

“I’m just really fighting for the right to campaign,” Barth said. “We’re just sitting back waiting to see who’s got deeper pockets. I’m going to try to find a remedy here.”

Daniel White, elections board attorney, said he’s not sure what will happen if the Supreme Court ruling affirms state map and comes after the primary election. There is no precedent for a situation like this, he said.

“That’s up for the trial court to sort out,” White said. “We just have to move forward based on the maps we have right now.”

Residents hold signs in protest of the county's district map at a Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration meeting on Tuesday, March 5, 2024, in Marietta. (Taylor Croft/taylor.croft@ajc.com)

Credit: Taylor Croft

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Credit: Taylor Croft