The Georgia Senate passed a redistricting plan Thursday for state regulators who oversee the cost of electricity and other utilities over objections that the plan is designed to protect a sitting commissioner and that the election system has largely kept Black people from winning a seat.

The Georgia Public Service Commission district map would be revisited in 10 years under Senate Bill 472, which received the backing of Republican senators following a tense debate. Democratic senators wanted to overhaul a system that is being challenged in federal court, while the Senate’s redistricting committee chairman, Sen. John Kenndey, said the boundaries were updated to reflect the latest census population changes and not politically motivated.

Kennedy strongly denied accusations that the new district lines were manipulated in order to favor Republican District 2 Commissioner Tim Echols to help him avoid a challenge from Democrat Patty Durand, whose Gwinnett County residence would be drawn out of the new district.

“This is changing and setting their map consistent with the population changes in a new map, just as it is for us that we will be operating and running under for the Senate, just as the House members and just for the 14 congressional districts,” Kennedy said.

The Senate vote comes a day before an Atlanta U.S. District Court hearing on whether to stop the March 11 qualifying for the PSC election until after a lawsuit alleging the state is diluting the Black vote by using statewide elections to determine who represents each public service district is settled.

The lawsuit argues at least one of the districts should be drawn to have a majority Black population.

The commission decides how much Georgia Power can charge customers for electricity. It also regulates telephone and natural gas rates.

The proposed boundaries, said Atlanta Democratic Sen. Elena Parent, place 41 of Georgia’s 159 counties into new districts that will result in voters in Gwinnett and 10 middle Georgia counties losing a chance to vote for the commissioner who represents their district for a decade.

Before the House takes up the proposed Public Service Commission map the attorneys working for several civil rights activists will make a case that qualifying for the seat should be suspended ahead of its start next month. The U.S. Justice Department is supporting the effort to prove that Georgia’s PSC elections violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs are former state NAACP President James Woodall and Atlanta chapter President Richard Rose, Georgia Conservation Voters Executive Director Brionté McCorkle, and Wanda Mosley, senior coordinator for Black Voters Matter.

The plaintiffs are not representing their respective organizations in the lawsuit.

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