By Amy Wenk
amywenk@reporternewspapers.net

Sandy Springs recently became the first city in Georgia to win U.S. Justice Department approval to opt out of a provision in the Voting Rights Act.

The decision, if approved by a judge, will allow the city to conduct its own elections.
The Justice Department reached the agreement Sept. 22. A judge should sign the consent decree in a month, said Sandy Springs City Attorney Wendell Willard.

“There shouldn’t be any objection that we know of,” Willard said.

If the exemption is approved by the U.S. District Court, Sandy Springs will be able to conduct its own elections and change election procedures without obtaining preclearance from federal agencies. Even small changes, such as poll location changes, currently require approval from the Justice Department.

Sandy Springs sought the exemption because city officials think controlling their elections will save the city money, Willard said.

“It has some substantial benefits from a cost savings,” he said. “It costs money to go through the preclearance process.”

Willard added Sandy Springs now pays Fulton County $400,000 to run each election. He said the city could save up to 40 percent of that amount if it ran its own elections.

Sandy Springs filed the action Sept. 7. City officials had to prove there was no voter discrimination in Sandy Springs for the past 10 years.

The Justice Department for the next 10 years will retain oversight of Sandy Springs’ elections to ensure the city is not discriminating against voters.

If Sandy Springs decides to conduct its own elections, the city has agreed to form an advisory group, made up of citizens; recruit a diverse group of poll workers; and mail ballots and notices to voters.

“We are pleased that the Justice Department agreed that Sandy Springs is entitled to bailout,” Mayor Pro Tem Tibby DeJulio said in a Sept. 23 release. “We are looking forward to conducting our own elections, working with the minority communities of Sandy Springs and ensuring that every citizen has the opportunity to participate in city government.”