Tens of thousands of black Macon-Bibb voters have another chance to cast ballot in August runoff

On Friday, June 19th, Juneteenth is an event which is celebrated nationwide that commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States. However, sixty-five years after the Voting Rights Act in 1965, tens of thousands of Macon-Bibb African-Americans chose to sit out the June 9th primary which featured a Macon-Bibb mayoral race.

After ten days of unprecedented calculation and eventual certification of Macon-Bibb results, there will be a runoff between conservative Lester Miller and progressive Clifford Whitby.

Miller, the former District 4 Board of Education member who first ran for public office as a Republican was elected in 2012. Eventually, he had switched his affiliation to Independent prior to qualifying for mayor earlier this year. In the June 9th primary, Miller was able to consolidate a large majority of the Republican vote– mainly from North Macon-Bibb and west Bibb who supported Donald Trump and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp–and accumulated 42 percent of the total vote (16,978 votes). Miller needed 50.1 to avoid a runoff.

Miller with his conservative majority did come close in this non-partisan election, but with Macon-Bibb historically being a majority Democratic, majority-minority county, an August 11 runoff is set.

The key now is voter turnout.

Miller’s opponent will be the former chairman of the Macon-Bibb Industrial Authority, Cliffard Whitby. The Southwest High School graduate and father of six has gained numerous endorsements since the announcement of his candidacy and has stressed throughout his campaign fairness, balance and equity– for all. Whitby secured 27 percent of the vote (10,985), but only approximately 20 percent of registered African-American voters in Macon-Bibb cast a ballot– out of approximately 50,000 registered African-Americans.

With an August 11th runoff win, Whitby would become Macon-Bibb’s first African-American mayor–post Macon-Bibb consolidation. Consolidation opened the door for Macon-Bibb conservatives to have a larger impact via legislative efforts by our local delegation in the General Assembly nearly a decade ago . The first and last mayor of Macon–pre-consolidation– was C. Jack Ellis who served two terms from 1999 through 2007.

The city of Macon had a minority population of 70 percent pre-consolidation, but Republican lawmakers with the help of former state Senator and current District 142 representative Miriam Paris– sided with former Republican state representative Allen Peake and other local delegation Republicans in pushing consolidation through the General Assembly.

However, local Republicans led by Allen Peake and former state senator Cecil Staton were not satisfied with just consolidation, but targeting how and when Macon-Bibb elections were run became an issue in 2013– and eventually Republicans were able to pass through “non-partisan” legislation which took away Democratic/Republican primary elections–including the Macon-Bibb mayoral race– and allow Republicans to run covertly as “non-partisan” in a majority-minority, historically Democratic county who have supported the candidacies of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Stacey Abrams.

Hopes of reversing efforts in the General Assembly by local Republicans were stymied after the United States Supreme Court on June 25, 2013 — in a 5-to-4 vote– freed nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval. So, in essence, the Voting Rights Act was gutted.

State Rep. Allen Peake said he knew there would be criticism from the community when he and other members of Bibb County’s legislative delegation changed partisan elections to nonpartisan for the new Macon-Bibb County consolidated government.

Still, “If it came up today, I would do it all again,” he said. This was from a Macon Telegraph article seven years ago.

Lester Miller is a beneficiary of the past Republican legislative efforts to gain control of Macon-Bibb government and is counting on lesser Democratic black turnout in the August 11 runoff to cement conservative control of a majority-minority county that usually supports Democrats.

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