Change to district voting may make recall of officials problematic

The switch to district voting by the Fayette County Board of Education will deprive voters of their current ability to participate in the removal of any local elected official from office via a recall procedure.

Under current Georgia law, a registered voter must live in the district for the office in which that official is seated to sign a recall petition.

So under the new district voting scheme, the only way a voter can participate in a recall effort is if he or she lives in the same district as the board member who is the subject of the recall petition.

That recall petition is important, because a recall effort must secure the signatures of at least 30 percent of the eligible voters in the given district to even qualify for a recall petition to be heard in Superior Court.

The argument can be made that under district voting, a recall effort would need fewer signatures to meet the 30 percent threshold. But all of those signatures must come from voters in the district that is being targeted in the recall attempt.

Under the new election rules adopted Monday night by the Fayette County Board of Education, all residents will be restricted to voting for the sole district they live in. In essence they are being stripped of the right to vote for the other four seats on the board.

That in itself is a sea change from the long-standing at-large districts which allow each voter to cast ballots for all five school board seats.

The most recent recall effort in Fayette County happened in 2009 when Peachtree City resident Bob Ross attempted to recall Fayette County Commissioner Robert Horgan, based on Horgan’s arrest that May for misdemeanor possession of marijuana and driving with an expired tag.

If district voting had been in play for the county commission at the time, Ross would not have been able to sponsor the recall petition, much less sign it. That’s because Ross doesn’t live in the geographic district which Horgan represents.

Horgan survived the recall effort, as Superior Court A. Quillian Baldwin Jr. ruled that his arrest was not connected to his position in office, since Horgan was pulled over by a sheriff’s deputy on a Saturday afternoon in his personal vehicle and not while conducting any official business as a county commissioner.

Had the court ruled against Horgan, he could have faced a recall election in which all county voters would have been allowed to vote on whether or not he would be removed from office.

Currently, all five county commissioners currently are elected by all Fayette County voters. But the Fayette County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has also sued the county commission in a bid to require district voting for the commission.

That lawsuit is still pending in federal court.