Gov. Sonny Perdue’s signature Thursday ushered in a new era for Forsyth County politics.
House Bills 373 and 378, authored by Cumming Rep. Mark Hamilton, revise the county’s current election process so each of the five county commission and school board seats are decided by voters living in the candidates' respective districts.
Neither bill met any opposition in the House or Senate, and the governor's blessing was expected.
Hamilton was inspired to write the bills following the July 15 primary election, when an overwhelming majority of voters said they would prefer district voting to the at-large, countywide setup.
The nonbinding election ballot question received support from nearly 73 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of Democrats.
"With this passage, the people of Forsyth County will be able to look forward to beginning the process of electing their commissioners and school board members by district in 2010,” Hamilton said. “This is simply what many people have asked for over the last several years."
He added that it also means Forsyth will become "the 21st of 22 Georgia counties with a population of over 100,000 that no longer elects its commissioners at large."
The changes will go into effect well before the July 2010 primary election, when Commissioners Jim Harrell and Charles Laughinghouse are up for re-election. Had district voting been in place in 2006, Laughinghouse would not have been re-elected as he failed to carry his district.
Both men have maintained the ballot wording was confusing and did not include the opinions of the majority of registered voters.
“I’d say I am disappointed because I’m not real sure that people really knew what they were voting on back at the ballot time,” said Laughinghouse, who chairs the commission.
“But that’s in the past. It’s what the people said they wanted, so this is what they've got and we’re going to see how it works for them. We will wait and see how the county fares over the next several years.”
The bills were supported by all five members of the local state legislative delegation, and Hamilton said he received the governor’s blessing ahead of time.
“The entire delegation met with the governor and received his support prior to the bills being dropped, so his signing was expected, but we didn't know exactly when he would sign them," Hamilton said.
State Sen. Jack Murphy, a Republican from Cumming, said he doesn’t see why commissioners have been so vocal in opposition to the bills.
“The same people that voted them in by the number of votes they got, are the same number of people that voted in that primary about the vote by district,” he said.
“Should we all resign our seats and run for re-election because we didn’t get enough total votes? The ones that cared about the issues enough were the ones that voted on it.”
About 16 percent, or 14,248 of more than 87,000 registered voters, weighed in on the vote-by-district question in the primary. Still, that was more voters than cast ballots for any commission or school board candidate.
Murphy said while the purpose of the measure was mostly to put Forsyth in line with similar counties, it could have a substantial impact on elections.
“Some of the people in the northern part of the county thought they were being controlled by the southern part of the county,” Murphy said.