For the Cobb County Commission District 2 race, the runoff between the top finishers in the Democratic primary, Taniesha Whorton and Jaha Howard, – is taking place in a highly unusual contest where the East Cobb district’s boundaries are still in dispute. (More on that to come.)

In the Democratic primary election on May 21, no one out of a crowded five-candidate field received over 50% of the vote. Howard, a former Cobb school board member, came in first with just above 33% of the vote, while Whorton drew almost 25% for second place.

The runoff winner will face Pamela Reardon, who ran unopposed in the Republican primary, in the general election in November for the District 2 commission seat.

Whorton, the executive assistant to the CEO at Bader Scott Injury Lawyers, emerged as a surprisingly strong candidate in her first-ever political campaign. She bested former state Rep. and Cobb Democrats chair Erick Allen, the third-place vote-getter at 23.1% in the primary, to secure the runoff spot against Howard.

The two-year redistricting dispute over the Cobb Commission map attracted the five Democratic candidates to the race, because the current District 2 commissioner, Jerica Richardson, was drawn out of her East Cobb district by the Republican-controlled state legislature. She instead opted to run for Congress in U.S. House District 6 — where she lost the Democratic primary in a landslide to incumbent Rep. Lucy McBath.

What is the redistricting dispute?

During redistricting, which takes place every 10 years based on population changes from the latest U.S. Census, the Republican-controlled state legislature in 2022 flip-flopped large portions of Cobb Commission Districts 2 and 3, which are both in East Cobb.

Cobb’s Republican legislators proposed a map (right) that put two incumbent county commissioners — Democrat Jerica Richardson from District 2 and Republican JoAnn Birrell from District 3 — into the same redrawn District 2 (in pink). Thanks to demographic changes, East Cobb voters, once predominantly Republican, are now split between Republicans and Democrats.

The state legislature approved that map in the 2022 legislative session, but the majority-Democratic county commission replaced the legislature’s map with its own redrawn map in fall 2022 (left) — citing Cobb’s “home rule” rights under the state constitution – in hopes of keeping Richardson in office.

(In most states, local governments redraw the lines for county-wide districts in response to new U.S. Census population data, but in Georgia, the state legislature has the final say. Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the U.S. Justice Department could override the Georgia legislature’s voting district changes, in what’s called preclearance, but the U.S. Supreme Court stopped that in 2013.)

On the left is the current map, redrawn by the Cobb County Commission. On the right is the map drawn by the state legislature in 2022. (District 2 is in pink.)
Images: Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office.

Two Cobb residents, Catherine and David Floam, successfully sued the county over the new Home Rule map for the commission districts. A Cobb Superior Court judge ruled the Home Rule map unconstitutional and tossed it out in favor of the one from the state legislature.

But Cobb went ahead and used the Home Rule map to determine what district prospective county commission candidates lived in, pending its appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court. That prompted sharp criticism from the Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, in early March over the county’s “reckless candidate qualifying process,” which he said could confuse election officials and disenfranchise voters.

The situation sparked another lawsuit from an aspiring Republican candidate for commission District 2, Alicia Adams, who doesn’t live in the district under the Home Rule map, but would qualify under the map drawn by the state legislature.

Just before the May 21 primary, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s ruling. But instead of ruling on the legality of the Home Rule map and clearing up the map confusion, the justices decided that the Floams didn’t qualify for the declaratory judgment in the first place.

The high court’s decision kept the county-approved map in place for the primary elections and the June 18 Democratic runoff for the District 2 commission seat. However, since there is no definitive ruling on which map is legal, further litigation could impact the November election.

Even though the boundaries of commission District 2 remain in limbo, Whorton and Howard reside in the district for both proposed district maps.

Why does this race matter?

County commissioners oversee the county’s operations. Here are a few key responsibilities:

  • Adopt county budgets and levy taxes.
  • Develop and maintain county roads and bridges.
  • Make decisions on county services, programs, and facilities.
  • Establish county ordinances, resolutions, and policies.
  • Manage county-owned property.

The runoff winner may face Republican Pamela Reardon — a retired real-estate agent who could be removed from the general election ballot if the legal dispute over commission maps is decided before November.

Who can vote in the runoff?

Registered Cobb Commission District 2 voters can cast a ballot early through Friday at three county-wide voting locations or vote at their poll on June 18. Republican primary voters are not eligible to vote in this runoff. It’s only for voters who cast a Democratic or nonpartisan ballot in the May 21 primary, or who didn’t vote.

Statewide runoff election dates to remember:

  • Fri., June 7: Last day to request an absentee ballot.
  • Sat., June 8: Early voting from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Mon. – Fri., June 10-14: Early voting from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Tues., June 18: Election Day. Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Use the ACC x AJC Georgia Decides voter guide to see who’s on your ballot and learn more about the candidates.

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