The residents of Athens-Clarke County District 6 suffered two enormous blows in the span of less than a week. First, on the Sunday before the election to fill the seat in that district, Commissioner Jerry NeSmith suddenly and shockingly died. His death left family and friends devastated. Two days later, the electorate in District 6 re-elected Jerry as their commissioner, showing their faith in his platform and giving some solace to his family. Many winning votes came early or with mail-in ballots long before Jerry’s death.
Before we could raise our glass in celebration of Jerry’s long, dedicated commitment to his beloved county, the residents of ACC District 6 suffered a second blow. The county announced that all the votes for Jerry NeSmith were null and void. Our city attorney’s interpretation of a 1992 state law declared that his opponent would fill the vacant four-year term.
More shock waves ran through the district. How could this be? We all anticipated a special election in which we would choose our representative. Isn’t it our Constitutional right to elect our own county commissioner?
Any law that voids the votes of legitimate citizens must change. It’s time to seek redress from our legislative and judicial bodies. Our government stands for democracy, justice and fairness. We hope Commissioner-elect Jesse Houle, along with his supporters, would agree that we cannot let this dated and flawed decision stand uncontested.
Many residents of District 6 are still grieving the loss of a proven servant-leader in Mr. NeSmith. But now is the time to stand united and fight for our Constitutional right to have our votes counted and thereby protect future elections from this breach to democracy.
The people of District 6 deserve to have their voices heard.
Joan Curtis, Madeline VanDyck, Helene Schwartz, Karen Porter and Caroline Aiken
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