The bill, introduced by Rep. Bill Cummings (D-Rockmart), would allow for a referendum to let voters choose if school board members should be elected county wide instead of by districts.
The bill requires that an election be held in conjunction with the Presidential Preference Primary in 2004 or any county wide referendum before that date.
County voters would have a choice to vote “yes” or “no” to the question – “Shall the act be approved which changes the manner of electing members of the Board of Education of the Polk School District from district elections to county wide election?”
In January, the school board voted to change from district to county wide voting.
The change would allow Polk voters to cast ballots for all those seeking election on the nine-member panel. Currently, voters can only cast ballots for one board member in the district where they reside.
Those seeking election would still be required to reside in districts, but would need county wide approval to win any contested seats.
This change requires local legislation in the Georgia General Assembly and must also be cleared by the U.S. Justice Department since Georgia falls under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Cummings said he favored letting the voters of Polk County decide the issue since it was changed by a vote of the people in June of 1985. A referendum was passed on June 11, 1985 by a vote of 362 to 299 to switch from county wide voting to district voting. Polk County was facing a lawsuit at that time to change to district voting to give minorities a better chance at being elected, Cummings recalled.
The proposed change, Cummings explained, could also be achieved with local legislation being introduced in the assembly that would not require a vote by Polk County voters.
However, Cummings said he favored allowing the voters to decide the issue since it was such a close vote, 5-4, on the school board.
Cummings explained there was a shortage of time to get the issued approved by the Justice Department and do the required legal advertising to get the issue on a upcoming vote scheduled March 18 for the renewal of a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST).
The veteran legislator said a possible school SPLOST referendum in June might work out as a time to vote on the election change for the school board members.
The school board voted in January to make the change with Chairman Rick Lundy, Regina Roberts, Guy Rutland Jr. Beth Warner and Bettie Fay Lewis voting to change to county wide voting. Voting against the change were Harold Lumpkin, Frank Plant, Tommy Sanders and Dr. Harold Wingfield.