composite Echols Durand

A Fulton County judge has reversed Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s decision to disqualify Democrat Patty Durand as a candidate for the Georgia Public Service Commission.

This story also appeared in Georgia Recorder

Superior Court Judge Melynee Leftridge ruled Thursday that a 12-month residency requirement for PSC candidates was unconstitutionally applied to Durand. (Read the order here.)

The state commission regulates Georgia’s utilities and plays an important role in determining what consumers pay for electricity and gas. 

Durand launched her campaign last July to challenge Republican Commissioner Tim Echols, but she was drawn out of District 2 by a GOP-created district map in the 2022 legislative session shortly before candidate qualifying started.

Leftridge concluded that the timing and extent of the changes – 66% of the original District 2 was removed – represented a “severe limitation on the number of viable candidates” for the commission.

“Population added to a district at the last minute does not mitigate the candidate-limiting effect of removing a large portion of the former district’s population,” Leftridge wrote. “Notably, no persons who were added to District 2 on March 4, 2022 qualified to challenge the incumbent by the close of the qualifying period on March 11, 2022.”

Durand was living in Gwinnett County but moved to Rockdale County so she could challenge the political maneuvering in court. Her lawsuit yielded correspondence between Chairwoman Tricia Pridemore and Echols showing Pridemore asking for Durand’s home address in Gwinnett as the maps were being drawn.

“These facts strongly support an inference that SB 472’s district lines were motivated, at least in part, by a desire to draw Ms. Durand’s address out of District 2,” Leftridge wrote.

Durand, a longtime energy activist, has continued to campaign while fighting to stay on the ballot. Durand said the ruling “proved my claim that Tim Echols improperly influenced the redistricting process.”

The state can appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court, but it was unclear Thursday whether an appeal is in the works. An email sent late Thursday to a Secretary of State spokesman was not immediately answered.

Through a spokesman, Echols declined to comment on pending litigation.

“Commissioner Echols is running for reelection regardless of who his opponent on the Democratic side will be,” said spokesman Bill Edge.  

Another pending case will decide whether a pair of PSC races – including the three-way matchup with Durand, Echols and Libertarian Colin McKinney – will stay on the Nov. 8 ballot. A federal judge ruled this month that holding statewide elections for the district-based seats is unfair to Black voters and violates the Voting Rights Act, delaying the elections until state lawmakers can fix the problem. A federal appeals court reversed the decision postponing the elections, and the plaintiffs are waiting to hear whether the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the case. 

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing...