Georgia appeals ruling that PSC elections discriminate against Black voters

11th Circuit will consider case over Public Service Commission

The state of Georgia on Monday appealed a federal judge’s ruling that found statewide elections for Public Service Commission seats illegally weaken the power of Black voters.

The appeal means the case will next be considered by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after Friday’s decision put on hold this year’s planned elections to the utility regulating board.

The Public Service Commission sets electricity and natural gas rates, but only one Black candidate has ever won an election to the board in its 143-year history.

U.S. District Judge Steven Grimberg, who was nominated to the bench by former President Donald Trump, wrote in his order that statewide Public Service Commission elections violate the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racially discriminatory voting laws.

Before Grimberg’s order, commission members were elected by voters across the entire state of Georgia, even though they are required to live in one of five districts.

Grimberg’s ruled in favor of plaintiffs who alleged that because about half of Georgia’s population is white, they dilute the votes of Black voters, who make up more than 30% of the statewide electorate. His decision prevented PSC elections involving two Republican incumbents, Tim Echols and Fitz Johnson, until state legislators redraw districts and set a new election date.

Attorneys for the state didn’t detail the basis for the appeal, according to their court filing Monday.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that altering rules on short notice before elections could bewilder voters and discourage them from participating. But Grimberg said in court last month that his ruling would come before a deadline to set Georgia ballots on Aug. 12.

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this report.