October 18, 2017 10:00 AM
Here’s one you won’t see every day. Kennesaw Post 5 Councilman Jim Sebastian is not running for re-election in his district so that he can run for the council’s Post 4 seat currently held by Jimmy Dickens. All city council districts are elected at-large, so the different posts cover the same geographical area and serve the same population. Sebastian’s reason for challenging Dickens is not a grudge. In fact, he says that he likes Dickens and even mentored him when he first came to the council. Instead, his run for Post 4 is a protest of the city’s at-large voting system.
At-large voting systems have historically been used to suppress minority viewpoints and have questionable merit as representative systems. If you’ve ever read Melissa Faye Green’s Praying for Sheetrock, then you know what I am talking about. She recounts the troubled history of McIntosh County, Georgia, where for decades an oppressive white majority dominated local politics even though blacks made up a sizable portion of the county’s population. This was partially due to the county’s use of an at-large district to elect the county commission.
The at-large system allowed the white majority to elect their preferred candidates in all county commission elections. The basic representation problem was that just over 50 percent of voters were selecting 100 percent of the government. Black residents eventually brought a voting rights lawsuit and won, prompting a redrawing of the county’s electoral map so that different geographic districts and constituencies elected the commissioners.
The use of at-large voting districts to suppress black voters is not uncommon in southern political history. However, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and subsequent court decisions related to the drawing of district lines have established guidelines that would probably invalidate any at-large system being used to disenfranchise voters based on race.
The Kennesaw system is still around and, based on the demographics of the city versus the city council, it does not look like minorities are being denied descriptive representation in the government. So, what are Sebastian’s concerns with Kennesaw’s at-large system? Well, he said he thinks that the election laws are “archaic.” Beyond that, I am not sure if there are certain political beliefs that are not represented on the council or if there are other representational concerns that Kennesaw is dealing with. If any of our Cobb County readers have any further insight, your comments would be greatly appreciated.