Redistricting after the 2020 Census in many instances led to upheaval and litigation. That certainly has been the case for Patty Durand, who is running for a seat on the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC), a state commission which oversees and regulates public utilities such as electricity and natural gas providers.
The PSC is divided into 5 districts, each represented by a Commissioner. Durand, who at the time lived in Gwinnett County, part of District 2, announced her candidacy against District 2 Commissioner Tim Echols last July and started campaigning. On March 4, 2022, just days before the qualifying period (when a candidate must officially declare that they are running for a particular office), the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation redrawing the PSC Districts, moving Gwinnett County into District 4.
Georgia law (O.C.G.A. § 46-2-1(b)) requires that any candidate for Commissioner of a PSC District “shall have resided in that district for at least 12 months prior to election thereto.” Because District 2 was redrawn to exclude Gwinnett County eight months before the general election in November, Durand quickly moved to a neighboring county within the new District 2 in an effort to continue meeting that residency requirement.
The day before Durand’s primary election, on May 23, 2022, the Georgia Secretary of State issued a ruling disqualifying Durand from the race because, according to the ruling, she could not fulfill the residency requirement. Durand then filed a lawsuit seeking to have the Secretary’s decision set aside, and a Fulton County Superior Court judge issued an order the morning of the primary election staying the Secretary’s decision until her lawsuit could be adjudicated and requiring the Secretary to inform “all appropriate election officials . . . to remove all notices of Durand’s disqualification” by noon that day.
The Georgia Supreme Court, in Cox v. Barber, 275 Ga. 415 (2002), indicated that the one-year residency requirement might be unconstitutional and not apply if “the district lines were redrawn to exclude [a particular person] specifically from being a candidate.” If Durand was targeted, which might have occurred according to a recent article, it is possible that the Court will strike down the new districts.
A final hearing in Durand’s lawsuit pending in Fulton County Superior Court is scheduled for July 26, 2022. The court will decide whether the Secretary of State’s decision disqualifying Durand should stand or be reversed. Absent court intervention, Durand would not get to be on the ballot in November through no fault of her own and despite having handily won her primary election in May.
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