Georgia passes Public Service Commission districts elected statewide

The Georgia Public Service Commission is pictured in its hearing room. From left: Commissioners Fitz Johnson, Tim Echols, Tricia Pridemore, Lauren “Bubba” McDonald and Jason Shaw.

Combined ShapeCaption
The Georgia Public Service Commission is pictured in its hearing room. From left: Commissioners Fitz Johnson, Tim Echols, Tricia Pridemore, Lauren “Bubba” McDonald and Jason Shaw.

Critics say at-large voting for PSC is discriminatory

The Georgia General Assembly voted along party lines Friday to approve new state Public Service Commission districts for members who will continue to be elected statewide, which opponents say illegally weakens representation of Black voters.

The redrawn map now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp before candidates must sign up to run for this year’s elections starting Monday.

The Public Service Commission affects the finances of power and natural gas customers in Georgia, setting rates for Georgia Power and Atlanta Gas Light.

Democrats criticized the map because it preserves at-large elections for the Public Service Commission, saying that kind of voting system denies Black voters an opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. Georgia’s white majority outnumbers the state’s 31% of Black residents in statewide elections.

Commission members must live in one of five districts, but voters across the entire state are allowed to vote for all commission seats.

Combined ShapeCaption
The Georgia General Assembly voted to approve new Public Service Commission districts on March 4, 2022.

Credit: Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office

The Georgia General Assembly voted to approve new Public Service Commission districts on March 4, 2022.

Credit: Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office

Combined ShapeCaption
The Georgia General Assembly voted to approve new Public Service Commission districts on March 4, 2022.

Credit: Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office

Credit: Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office

“It is an intentional effort to dilute minority voting strength,” said House Minority Leader James Beverly, a Democrat from Macon. “We should not, we must not, have any part of that. Intentional racial discrimination is wrong no matter what party affiliation you have.”

A pending federal lawsuit is seeking to overturn statewide elections for the Public Service Commission, alleging that it violates the federal Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racially discriminatory voting laws.

“The maps were necessary, of course, because of population changes and shifts over the last 10 years,” said House Redistricting Chairwoman Bonnie Rich, a Republican from Suwanee. “I do not believe that will be overturned.”

All five Public Service Commission members were white until Kemp appointed a Black commissioner, Fitz Johnson, to fill a vacancy in July.

The Georgia House passed Senate Bill 472 on a 97-68 vote Friday. It had previously cleared the state Senate.