The passing of County Commissioner Pota Coston presents a potentially messy political situation with regards to the special election that will be held to replace her on the board.
The county and school boards continue to prepare for a trial in their fight to undo the district voting system which was very likely crucial in Coston’s victory last November. The 11th District Court of Appeals decided in January to send the case back to the district court which originally ruled in favor of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP and ten African-American Fayette County voters who sued the commission and school board to establish district voting in place of an at-large system.
Resolution in that case hangs in limbo as each side prepares for trial, leaving the question of how the county should conduct this special election.
As of this week, county officials say they intend to hold the special election on September 15, at the earliest, and they intend to hold it as an at-large election.
“Right now, because the district maps have been appealed, we’re assuming it would be an at-large election,” said County Administrator Steve Rapson.
Rapson and County Attorney Dennis Davenport both indicated the situation is complicated as they have weighed how the county should proceed.
The decision to proceed with the special election under an at-large model would further complicate matters if, eventually, the NAACP was successful in court and district voting was made official.
Coston’s succeeded in her run for commission during last year’s election, the first major election that was conducted under the district voting system. Her victory in District 5 was notable as she was the first African-American to win a race for county commission, and also because she was a Democrat running in a Republican-heavy county.
Leonard Presberg, also a Democrat, won his race for Board of Education in District 5 as well by a similarly strong margin as Coston, taking around 67 percent of the vote.
Ogechi Oparah was the third candidate to run as a Democrat in last year’s election, opposing Republican Diane Basham for the Board of Education seat in District 4. Basham won that race with around 64 percent of the vote.
The voting patterns from the election suggest the fifth district was the only one in the county that would be likely to elect a Democrat. If the ballot is opened to the rest of the the whole county for a special election, it is likely Coston would be replaced by a Republican.
Presberg also serves as Chair of the Fayette County Democratic Committee. He said this week that he hopes the county changes its mind and conducts the special election under a district model.
“I hope they reconsider. They need to consider the message that such a decision would send to the community and the statement that makes about Pota’s legacy. I hope they take the opportunity to do what’s right and not play political games during this time of community mourning,” Presberg said.
Of the more than twenty speakers at last week’s prayer vigil for Coston which was held the night before she died, only State Senator Valencia Seay (District 34) focused on the political implications underpinning her passing.
Seay recounted her run for school board in Clayton County in 1992, shortly after the county had instituted district voting. She said she had spoken to Coston about how their experiences mirrored each other.
Seay was critical of the opposition to district voting, saying it was “wrong” that it took until 2014 for the county commission to have its first black commissioner.
“I wanted to let her know that, even in 2014, we’re still having the first. Something’s wrong with that,” Seay said.
Seay also specifically compared those resisting district voting to demons.
“After getting 67 percent, still contested, why? I don’t understand that. Is it greed, power, fear? I don’t know the answer, but I know God knows the devil and all his imps can’t stop what the lord has for you,” Seay said.
Rapson indicated there would be discussions about this matter on Thursday during the closed portion of the county commission meeting. The county is represented by attorney Anne Lewis of Strickland, Brockington, and Lewis, LLP in its ongoing appeal of district voting.
Lewis did not respond to requests for comment.