Stories about Georgia

Twenty-two candidates are running for 9 seats in Atlanta Public Schools elections

Nine seats on the Atlanta Public Schools school board—three at-large and six district seats—are up for general election on Nov. 2, 2021. Twenty-two candidates qualified to run in the race by the Aug. 20, 2021 filing deadline. If necessary, a runoff election is scheduled for Nov. 30, 2021.

Six incumbents are seeking re-election: Cynthia Briscoe Brown (At-Large District 8), Jason Esteves (At-Large District 9), Aretta Baldon (District 2), Michelle Olympiadis (District 3), Erika Yvette Mitchell (District 5), and Eshé Collins (District 6). Three incumbents are not seeking reelection: Kandis Wood Jackson (At-Large Seat 7), Leslie Grant (District 1), and Nancy Meister (District 4).

With one-quarter of APS students enrolled in charter and partner schools, standards for renewing and expanding charter schools have been a major issue in this race. In 2018, the board voted 5-4 to allow KIPP Metro Atlanta, a network of charter schools, to continue to operate until 2023 when the charter must be renewed or terminated. Of the incumbent candidates in this election, Esteves and Collins supported the KIPP charter, while Brown, Mitchell and Olympiadis opposed it.

COVID-19 response policies, including mask and vaccine mandates, are also an issue. In addition to implementing a school-wide mask policy and mandatory twice-weekly testing requirement for staff for the 2021-2022 school year, Atlanta Public Schools released a statement on Oct. 7, 2021, saying the school district would “continue to study the feasibility and need for a vaccine mandate in our district.”

The 2021 election is the last election when every board seat is up for election simultaneously. Georgia’s HB 1075 changed the state’s school board election process so that members’ terms are staggered. The candidates who win in odd-numbered districts will serve a two-year term ending December 31, 2023. Candidates who win seats in even-numbered districts will serve a four-year term ending Dec. 31, 2025.

Atlanta Public Schools is located in northwestern Georgia in Fulton County and DeKalb County. It is classified as a large city school district by the National Center for Education Statistics. The district served 52,377 students during the 2018-2019 school year and comprised 89 schools.

Redistricting timeline updates: Georgia, North Dakota, and Oklahoma announce special sessions to tackle redistricting

Image of several stickers with the words "I voted"

Here’s a summary of recent redistricting timeline updates from Arkansas, Georgia, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and West Virginia.

Arkansas: The Arkansas General Assembly reconvened at the start of a state legislative special session to consider congressional map proposals on Sept. 29. The state’s Board of Appropriation will begin work on redistricting for state legislative districts later this fall. 

Georgia: Gov. Brian Kemp (R) called for a special session of the Georgia General Assembly to address redistricting on Sept. 23.  The special session is scheduled to convene on Nov. 3.

New Hampshire: TheSpecial Committee on Redistricting continues to hold public hearings on redistricting. The committee will attend meetings in Brentwood and Lancaster this week on Oct. 5 and 7, respectively. The hearings will continue until Oct. 14.

North Dakota: On Sept. 23, Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R) announced that a special legislative session focused on redistricting and COVID-19 aid spending will begin on Nov. 8. Wardner said the Legislative Redistricting Committee will have finalized its plans by the start of the session, and the session is expected to last five to eight days.  

Ohio: The Ohio legislature did not meet its Sept. 30, 2021 deadline to produce a congressional district map. Since a congressional map wasn’t completed by that date, the Ohio Redistricting Commission must draw a map by Oct. 31. If the commission does not adopt a map, the General Assembly must draw a map by Nov. 30.

Oklahoma: On Sept. 24, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) called a special session of the legislature to address redistricting. The special session will begin on Nov. 15.

Rhode Island: The special Legislative Commission on Reapportionment continues to hold public hearings on redistricting.  The commission held a meeting on Oct. 4 in Woonsocket and is scheduled to hold another in Kingston on Oct. 7. Hearings will continue until Oct. 25.

South Carolina: Senate President Harvey Peeler (R) canceled a special senate session originally scheduled to begin on Oct. 12. The Senate had planned to address COVID spending and redistricting during the special session, but the Senate redistricting committee asked for more time, saying it would not be able to draft district maps until later in the month.

West Virginia: The West Virginia Senate Redistricting Committee began the redistricting process by holding an organizational meeting in which they approved rules for drawing district maps. The House committee held its own organizational meeting on Sept. 30. Sen. Charles S. Trump (R) said he expects Gov. Jim Justice (R) to announce a special legislative session beginning the week of Oct. 11.

Newest Clayton County Board of Education member elected

The special general election for Clayton County Board of Education District 8 in Georgia was on Sept. 21. The filing deadline to run passed on Aug. 11. 

Joy Tellis Cooper (D) defeated Arvis Walker (D) for the District 8 seat.

A runoff election was initially scheduled for Oct. 19, but it was not needed after only two candidates filed to run.

As of 2018, Clayton County Public Schools served 54,840 students. It is the fifth-largest school district in Georgia. 

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Five candidates file for Georgia House special election

Image of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia.

Five candidates have filed to run in the Nov. 2 special election for District 165 in the Georgia House of Representatives. Edna Jackson (D), Sabrina Kent (D), Antwan Lang (D), Clinton Young (D), and Clinton Cowart (L) filed before the Sept. 10 filing deadline. The winner of the special election will serve until January 2023.

The seat became vacant on Aug. 14 after Edward Stephens (D) passed away. He had served in the state House since 2009. He defeated Young in the Democratic primary in 2020 with 63% of the vote, and he was unopposed in the general election that year.

Heading into the special election, Republicans have a 103-76 majority in the Georgia state House with one vacancy. Georgia has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

As of September 2021, 60 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 20 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. Georgia held 67 state legislative special elections from 2010 to 2020.

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Federal appeals court rejects claim that Georgia requirement that voters pay postage for absentee/mail-in ballots amounts to a poll tax

On Aug. 27, 2021, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit unanimously affirmed a lower court’s decision finding that a Georgia law requiring voters to pay the price of postage for returning absentee/mail-in ballots does not constitute an illegal poll tax. The plaintiffs had argued that requiring absentee/mail-in voters to pay the price of postage amounted to levying a poll tax, violating the Fourteenth and Twenty-Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The defendants (state and local election officials) moved to dismiss. A U.S. District Court granted the motion to dismiss, citing “[t]he fact that any registered voter may vote in Georgia on election day without purchasing a stamp, and without undertaking any ‘extra steps’ besides showing up at the voting precinct and complying with generally applicable election regulations.” The plaintiffs then appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.

The Eleventh Circuit panel—comprising Judges Elizabeth Branch (a Donald Trump (R) appointee), Britt Grant (another Trump appointee), and Edward Carnes (a George H.W. Bush (R) appointee)—unanimously affirmed the lower court’s ruling. Branch, writing for the court, said, “While voting often involves incidental costs like transportation, parking, child care, taking time off work, and—for those who choose to vote absentee by mail—the cost of a postage stamp, those incidental costs do not mean that Georgia has imposed an unconstitutional poll tax or fee on its voters.”

In response to the ruling, Sean Young, legal director for the Georgia affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (which was involved in the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs), said, “We are disappointed in the outcome. The ACLU of Georgia will continue to protect the sacred fundamental right to vote.” Regarding the possibility of an appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, Young said, “All legal options remain on the table.”

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Georgia’s suspended insurance commissioner found guilty on 37 charges of fraud; voters to decide in 2022 on suspending pay for indicted officials

Image of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia.

On July 22, a jury found former Georgia Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck (R) guilty on 37 counts of fraud, including mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and tax fraud.

Beck was elected to the office on November 6, 2018, and was suspended from the office by Governor Brian Kemp (R) on May 16, 2019.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in late January that Beck had been receiving pay and benefits since being indicted for federal wire fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering charges in May 2019. The charges included allegations that Beck stole over $2 million from his former employer, the Georgia Underwriting Association, and used those funds to pay for his 2018 campaign. Because Beck was suspended and did not resign, the state had been compensating him as well as John King, Kemp’s appointment to fill the position during Beck’s suspension.

Following the verdict, insurance commissioner John King said, “The state of Georgia is no longer paying for two commissioners. We took him off the payroll within hours of the jury coming back.”

Beck was placed on house arrest until sentencing, which was set for October 8, 2021.

Voters in Georgia will decide in 2022 whether to amend the state constitution to suspend compensation for the following public officials while suspended from office due to a felony indictment:

1. any member of the General Assembly;

2. Governor;

3. Lieutenant Governor;

4. Secretary of State;

5. Attorney General;

6. State School Superintendent;

7. Commissioner of Insurance;

8. Commissioner of Agriculture; or

9. Commissioner of Labor

Currently, under the state’s constitution, assembly members and public officials who are suspended from office due to the indictment for a felony still receive compensation until they are convicted. Officials that are reinstated to their position would receive pay that was withheld under the amendment.

Governor Brian Kemp appoints new state supreme court justice, public service commissioner

Governor Brian Kemp (R) appointed Verda Colvin to the Georgia Supreme Court and Fitz Johnson to the Georgia Public Service Commission on July 20 and 21, respectively. Colvin will fill the vacancy left by Justice Harold Melton, who retired on July 1 of this year, while Johnson will take former Commissioner Chuck Eaton’s position. Governor Kemp appointed Eaton to the Fulton County Superior Court on July 20. 

Founded in 1845, the Georgia Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort and has nine judgeships. The current chief of the court is David Nahmias. As of July 2021, Republican governors appointed seven judges (eight once Colvin is sworn in) on the court and one was initially selected in a nonpartisan election. Judges are selected using the nonpartisan election of judges system. They serve six-year terms. When an interim vacancy occurs, the seat is filled using the assisted appointment method of judicial selection with the governor picking the interim justice from a slate provided by the Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission. 

The Georgia Public Service Commission is a quasi-executive, quasi-legislative state body responsible for regulating Georgia’s public utilities: electric, gas, telecommunications, and transportation firms. The commission is composed of five popularly elected members who serve staggered, six-year terms. If a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement to serve until the next general election. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Johnson must win election in November 2022 to serve the remainder of Eaton’s term, which expires in 2024.

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Gov. Brian Kemp fills vacancy on Georgia Supreme Court

Georgia GovernorBrian Kemp (R) appointed Verda Colvin to theGeorgia Supreme Court on July 20. Colvin was Kemp’s third nominee to the nine-member court.

Colvin succeededHarold Melton, who retired on July 1. Chief Justice Melton joined the Georgia Supreme Court in 2005. He was appointed to the court by Gov. Sonny Perdue (R).

Prior to her appointment to the state supreme court, Colvin served as a judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals. Kemp appointed her to that court on March 27, 2020. Colvin was previously a judge with the Macon Circuit of the 3rd Superior Court District of Georgia. She was appointed to that court by Gov. Nathan Deal (R) on March 24, 2014. Prior to becoming a superior court judge, she was an attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In 2021, there have been 14 supreme court vacancies in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies have been caused by retirements. To date, 11 of the vacancies have been filled.

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Leesa Hagan wins special runoff election in Georgia House district

Image of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia.

Leesa Hagan (R) won the special general runoff election for Georgia House of Representatives District 156 on July 13. She defeated Wally Sapp (R), earning 51.7% of the vote to Sapp’s 48.3%. 

Hagan and Sapp advanced from the general election held on June 15, where they defeated Democratic candidate Wright Gres. A runoff became necessary after no candidate earned more than 50% of the vote in the general election.

The special election was called after Greg Morris (R) resigned to join the State Transportation Board at the Georgia Department of Transportation. Morris served from 1999 to 2021.

Georgia has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. As of July 12, Republicans controlled the Georgia House of Representatives by a margin of 101 to 77 with two vacancies.

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Georgia House of Representatives

State legislative special elections, 2021

Two Georgia House special runoffs set for July 13

Image of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia.

The special general runoff elections for Georgia House of Representatives Districts 34 and 156 are scheduled for July 13, 2021. 

  • In District 34, Devan Seabaugh (R) is facing Priscilla Smith (D) in the runoff. In the June 15 general election, Seabaugh and Smith advanced from a field of five candidates and earned 47.1% and 24.6% of the vote, respectively. The special election in District 34 was called after Bert Reeves (R) left office to become Georgia Institute of Technology’s vice president of university relations. Reeves served from 2015 to 2021.
  • In District 156, Leesa Hagan (R) and Wally Sapp (R) are competing in the runoff. In the June 15 general election, Hagan earned 43.1% of the vote and Sapp earned 42.3%. The special election was called after Greg Morris (R) resigned on April 13 to join the State Transportation Board at the Georgia Department of Transportation. Morris served from 1999 to 2021.

Georgia has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. Republicans control the state House by a margin of 101 to 77, with two vacancies.

As of July 2021, 43 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 17 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year.

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