Dispute about Cobb’s electoral map complicates District 2 race

Then-Rep. Erick Allen files paperwork to qualify to run for lieutenant governor at the Georgia State Capitol on Monday, Mar. 7, 2022. Steve Schaefer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Then-Rep. Erick Allen files paperwork to qualify to run for lieutenant governor at the Georgia State Capitol on Monday, Mar. 7, 2022. Steve Schaefer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Former Democratic state Rep. Erick Allen has announced his run for the Cobb County Commission District 2 seat, currently held by Commissioner Jerica Richardson, in what’s expected to be a complicated race for candidates, the elections department, and voters alike.

Jaha Howard, a former member of the Cobb County Board of Education; Kevin Redmon, who works in sales and is a political advocate in Cobb; and former Marietta city councilman Reginald Copeland have also filed declarations of intent to run for the seat this year, all as Democrats. No Republicans have yet filed to run.

Candidates will not be official until they are qualified in March, and they will face off in the May primary election. Richardson, the incumbent on the board, has already announced her campaign for the 6th U.S. Congressional District against current U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath.

But the state Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling in the lawsuit over the commission’s district map could alter the local race — no matter which side the court agrees with.

In 2022, Cobb County passed its own electoral map in an unprecedented legal move after the state-drawn map drew Richardson out of her district halfway through her term. The county was challenged in a lawsuit in Cobb Superior Court, alleging that Cobb’s map was unconstitutional.

Judge Ann Harris ruled in January that the county cannot pass its own map, but the county appealed her decision to the Georgia Supreme Court, which is expected to make a final decision in the coming weeks. If the court rules against the county in favor of the electoral map drawn by the state Legislature, Richardson would have to vacate her seat because county law requires that commissioners live in the district they represent.

“It’s not a choice; my seat will be vacated, and I will be removed from office immediately,” Richardson said. “There is no choice in the matter.”

Allen and others have argued that she may not have to vacate her seat, since she still lives in the district as it was drawn when she was first elected. If she is removed from office, she could take legal action on her own without the county, she said.

But the possible vacancy would not be filled until after the November election, potentially leaving District 2 without representation in the interim.

In that scenario, a four-member Board of Commissioners could end up stuck in a 2-2 party-line split that would potentially stymie the vote to place the transit referendum on the November ballot that Republicans have repeatedly opposed. That vote is set for June 11.

Meanwhile, campaigns for the District 2 seat are already underway, but some of the candidates may be ineligible to run depending on how the court rules.

If the court backs the state-drawn map, Redmon’s home address would be drawn out of the district since he lives in east Cobb, which means he would be disqualified. Copeland, who lives in the city of Marietta, does not currently reside in District 2 but will if the state-drawn map is reinstituted by the court ruling.

Allen and Howard will be in the district regardless of the decision since they both live in Smyrna, most of which is pulled into District 2 in both maps.

Redmon, who has publicly supported Richardson and the commission’s move to change its own map, said he has taken a step back on campaigning until he knows which district he will be in. He has also filed a declaration of intent to run in District 3 in the 2026 election, which is the district he would be in under the state’s map.

“I’m hoping we do get some closure before qualifying week, just for everybody’s sake,” Redmon said. “For the voter, there’s already a lot of confusion, and so I think more delays is just going to make that worse.”

Allen was a state representative and chair of the Cobb delegation when Republican lawmakers bypassed the traditional process in early 2022 to pass the map that drew Richardson out of her district, over the map that he had presented to the group. He said he will run for the District 2 seat no matter what happens in court.

“It’s not an easy thing to game out. I mean, it’s gonna be very, very complicated, and once again, the voters lose,” Allen said. “Chaos Cobb, and all because we didn’t follow the process.”

The now-former Cobb County school board members Jaha Howard, left, and Charisse Davis, right, at a Board of Education meeting Thursday, June 9, 2022. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

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Credit: Jenni Girtman

At one time in the last six months, every electoral map that impacts Cobb County was in litigation: The state House and Senate maps and the U.S. Congressional map had to be redrawn last November after a court order, and the Cobb County school board map was redrawn in January, though the litigation is still ongoing.

Howard, the former school board member, said he knows all too well what it’s like to be drawn out of a district by state lawmakers. In the same legislative session in 2022 when lawmakers drew Richardson out of her commission district, they also passed a map that removed Howard from his board of education district, meaning he would have to run for a different seat and against another incumbent. He opted not to run for reelection and instead ran unsuccessfully for state superintendent.

“We’re spending so much time talking about political shenanigans,” Howard said. “At the end of the day, the judges are going to sort it out in court, and we need to move forward and do what’s right by the county.”

Copeland, the former Marietta councilman, did not respond to a request for comment.

All of these changes have caused confusion among voters. Elections Director Tate Fall said she cannot update any of the maps in the My Voter Page system until she has the ruling from the Supreme Court on the commission map. So even though the county’s school board map has been officially changed, voters will not see the updates until the commission map is out of litigation.

On top of that, candidates who will run for office have to qualify starting March 4, so Fall is hoping to have the map by then to ensure the candidates live in the district in which they are running. Plus, ballots for the November election have to be sent to overseas and military voters by April 6 and have to be approved by the Board of Elections a month before that.

“County politics weren’t supposed to be this complicated,” Richardson said.