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Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 4:57am

Big Macon-Bibb Election Two Months Away

As Macon and Bibb County voters get ready to elect their first-ever consolidated government July 16, one expert thinks they may have to update their calendars — federal authorities could delay the elections under the Voting Rights Act.

Controversy erupted at the state capitol in February when Republicans led a push to make elections in this Democratic-leaning community nonpartisan. They also rescheduled the elections from November when turnout tends to be high, to July when it’s usually low.

Local Democrats see both as attempts by the GOP to gain ground in blue territory, and have formally complained to the Justice Department, which has until June 2 to intervene.

The feds will probably let the nonpartisan part stand, said Mercer University political scientist Chris Grant. “If you look at the slate of candidates that are running in this election, it becomes really hard to point out how this is a racial disadvantage to African Americans,” he said. Two African Americans are running for city-county mayor and many more for seats on the city-county commission.

However, the Justice Department could "maybe" opt to move the elections back to the fall, Grant said. "We know that whites are more likely to vote than African Americans, and moving the election to the middle of summer may have a lessening of voter turnout for African Americans.”

If the election is rescheduled, races for city-county mayor and commission will start all over again. Candidates will have to re-qualify, giving newcomers a chance to enter a fray that is dominated by familiar faces and in which two races are uncontested.

Under current plans, early voting starts June 25.

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