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DeKalb County spokesperson says special elections needed to fill commission seats this year

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DeKalb County spokesperson says special elections needed to fill commission seats this year

DeKalb County Government Manuel J. Maloof Center in downtown Decatur. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

DeKalb County, GA — Two county commissioners will vacate their seats now that they’ve qualified to run for county CEO, while a third will not.

But why? The explanation is a bit complicated, but it boils down to the county deferring to what state election law says about candidates holding one office while running for another.

In county government, the CEO oversees the day-to-day functions of the government, while the commission sets policy.

Qualifying ended on March 8. All three candidates who qualified in the May 21 election — Lorraine Cochran-Johnson, Larry Johnson and Steve Bradshaw — currently serve on the county commission. However, a county spokesperson said only Cochran-Johnson and Johnson must vacate their seats to run for CEO, while Bradshaw can continue to serve. Cochran-Johnson held the Super District 7 seat on the commission, and Johnson held District 3. Bradshaw serves as District 4 county commissioner.

An election to fill the vacancies in Super District 7 and District 3 could be held on May 21, along with the other elections, or as late as November 5, meaning two county commission districts could be without representation most of the year.

But the election will not involve a primary, a county spokesperson said.

Here’s county spokesperson Quinn Hudson’s full explanation of how the county will fill these vacancies.

Generally, a special election will be held to fill vacant seats on the Board of Commissioners with at least 180 days left on a term.  The Board of Registrations and Elections will issue a written call for a special election this month, which will include the qualifying dates for and the date of the special election to fill the commission vacancies in District 3 and Super District 7.  The special election could be held on May 21, 2024 or November 5, 2024.

State law addresses when a sitting county Commissioner must vacate their seat to run for CEO. Some sitting Commissioners have to vacate their seats to run for CEO while some do not, depending on each Commissioner’s term of office.   Specifically, when the current term of a sitting Commissioner extends sufficiently beyond the start of the next CEO term, qualifying to run for CEO means the sitting Commissioner’s seat is vacant by operation of law.

In this case, Commissioners Larry Johnson’s (District 3) and Lorraine Cochran-Johnson’s (Super District 7) seats were vacated by law when they qualified to run for CEO because their terms end in 2026.  Commissioner Steve Bradshaw (District 4) also qualified to run for CEO but was not legally required to and did not vacate his commission seat because his term of office differs from Commissioners Larry Johnson’s and Lorraine Cochran-Johnson’s terms and ends in 2024.

The special election will fill the commission vacancies.  There will not be a primary prior to the special election.

Decaturish has asked follow-up questions about how the traditionally partisan seats will appear on the ballot if there’s no primary and a question about what will happen to the employees who work in District 3 and Super District 7 offices.

In response to the first question, about partisan affiliation, the spokesperson said, “The election is a special election. Candidates may elect to list party affiliation.”

This story will be updated when the county responds to the other question about the staff in the District 3 and Super District 7 offices.

Click here to see the list of all candidates who qualified in the May 21 primary. All our election coverage can be found at Decaturishvotes.com.

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