Black voters won their case challenging the at-large method of electing Georgia Public Service Commissioners in a historic federal lawsuit against the Georgia Secretary of State.

Here’s what you need to know:

On August 5th, Judge Grimberg ruled that the current method of electing Public Service Commissioners weakened Black voters’ voices, violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The State of Georgia appealed, and Judge Grimberg’s ruling was overturned.

The plaintiffs counter-appealed to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court put Judge Grimberg’s original ruling back in place.

As a result, there will NOT be any PSC Commissioners on the ballot this November.

We expect the Secretary of State to make another appeal in the future.

About RICHARD ROSE, et al. Plaintiffs, v. BRAD RAFFENSPERGER

The Public Service Commission (PSC) is a body of five elected officials each of who allegedly represent a district. Commissioners must reside in one of the five commission districts to serve as that district’s commissioner. However, despite the presence of districts, commissioners are elected statewide.

Because statewide elections determine who becomes commissioner—and not voters who live in the district—this election method dilutes the voting power of black voters. The result is a chronic lack of representation on the commission, which has been nearly all-white and all-male since 1879. There have only ever been two black Public Service Commissioners. In 1999 Governor Roy Barnes appointed the first, David Burgess. In 2021, Governor Brian Kemp appointed Fitz Johnson to the PSC.

Without proper representation on the commission, black voters in Georgia find themselves at risk of higher rates that they cannot afford and have no voice to express their concerns.

The lawsuit alleges that due to this election structure, the Secretary of State has violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate based on race. The lawsuit demands the Secretary of State stop using the at-large method to elect commissioners and choose an election method that empowers voters to elect commissioners that will be responsive to their concerns.

 

On Friday, August 5th 2022, a federal court ruled that elections for the Georgia Public Service Commission violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by diluting the votes of Black citizens. The ruling blocks the Secretary of State from holding elections for Public Service Commission Districts 2 and 3 this November. The ruling orders the general assembly to redesign the election but it can no longer use the at-large method. The next election will be scheduled after the state’s remedy is approved by the court. You can read our full statement on the decision by clicking here.

Why representation on the PSC matters

 

  • The PSC oversees and makes critical decisions about electricity, gas, broadband. Most importantly, they regulate Georgia Power. Their decisions impact the cost of utility bills, the sources of the energy that Georgian use, and how pollution from Georgia Power’s power plants is managed.
  • Georgia Power has customers in nearly every county in Georgia. So the Public Service Commission makes decisions that impact Georgians all over the state.
  • The PSC was established to protect consumers, not utility companies, but the PSC has voted repeatedly to raise rates, add fees, and add charges to the bills of Georgians.
  • Georgians now pay the 8th highest electricity bill costs in the nation despite the company’s claim to have the lowest rates.

Learn more about the Public Service Commission here.

Did you know that the PSC regulates Plant Vogtle?

 

Plant Vogtle, the most expensive nuclear power plant ever built, is owned and operated by Georgia Power and Southern Company. Plant Vogtle’s units 3 and 4 are years behind schedule, and the costs have ballooned to $30 billion, more than twice the original estimate. At the same time, they’ve been enormously profitable for Georgia Power— because Georgia Power hasn’t been held responsible for mismanagement and delays. Instead, your Public Service Commissioners have allowed Georgia Power to pass the ever-growing costs of Vogtle onto residential customers, making the people of Georgia pay the bill for their mistakes.

Learn more about the mismanagement of Plant Vogtle and why it’s essential to have diverse voices on the PSC.