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Judge keeps Democrat running for Georgia regulator on ballot

May 24, 2022 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — A Democrat running for the Georgia Public Service Commission stayed on the ballot Tuesday after a judge blocked a Monday decision by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to disqualify her over residency issues.

Patty Durand of Conyers is one of two Democrats competing in a primary to challenge Republican incumbent Tim Echols. Raffensperger on Monday found Durand was not qualified to run for the District 2 seat. She moved into the new district in March after Durand’s old Peachtree Corners residence was drawn out of the district.

Durand said she was unconstitutionally targeted in redistricting, and should be able to run anyway, arguing it violated her 14th Amendment right to equal protection.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Melynee Leftridge on Tuesday ordered Raffensperger’s office to put Durand back on the ballot and count her votes, pending a later decision on Durand’s lawsuit.

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The order came after polls opened. Leftridge ordered removal of polling place signs stating Durand had been disqualified.

Commission candidates run statewide, but must live in one of five districts for at least a year before the November election. The commission regulates Georgia Power Co. and will decide how the utility’s customers pay for its share of $30 billion being spent on two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta.

Durand agrees she did not meet the one-year residency requirement. Instead, she argues Echols and Public Service Commission President Tricia Pridemore, also a Republican, conspired to draw Durand out of the district. In a May 12 hearing, Durand produced texts between Echols and Pridemore showing Echols sent Durand’s address in Gwinnett County to Pridemore after Pridemore had produced a draft map that kept Gwinnett County in Echols’ district.

Administrative Law Judge Shakara Barnes found Friday that “at the very least, the SB 472 redistricting map was drawn with respondent’s specific address in mind.” But Barnes wrote she is not allowed to resolve constitutional challenges and recommended to Raffensperger that Durand be disqualified.

Raffensperger ordered Durand disqualified on Monday, while disputing many of Barnes’ findings about what happened during redistricting.

The other Democrat in the primary, Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Russell Edwards, was recruited by Durand to run in case she was disqualified, Durand has said. Edwards endorsed Durand and suspended his campaign in late April. Durand said that if she wins the nomination Tuesday and is later disqualified, the state Democratic Party would choose a new nominee.