Next week, DeKalb County elections officials will decide how you old you have to be to run for office in the new city of Stonecrest.
A 19-year-old Spelman student, Mary-Pat Hector, is running for City Council, but one of her opponents is contesting her candidacy because of her age.
"I'm not fighting this just for myself, but for young people all over the country who believe that they could, but who are not being allowed to run for office," Hector said.
Her attorney, Marvin Arrington, said he believes the age limitation in the state code (O.C.G.A. § 45-2-1) is unconstitutional.
“The Georgia Constitution outlines disqualifying factors for candidates so, if there is a conflict between the constitution and a statute, the constitution rules,” Arrington said.
To run for any elected office in Georgia, state law sets a minimum age of 21, unless a city charter says otherwise.
The charter for the city of Stonecrest doesn't give a specific number, but says you have to be of voting age, which is 18.
Hector said she checked with county elections officials several times before starting to raise money to run for City Council.
"I paid my money on Jan. 9 and received all of my paperwork and I was told that I was a qualified candidate and my name is currently still on the ballot," Hector said.
One of her opponents, George Turner, filed a complaint on Jan. 23 with the DeKalb County elections board.
"It’s not personal, please don’t think it’s personal,” Turner said. “I think the world of Mary-Pat. She's a wonderful young lady, but the question is: Is she old enough?"
He said he asked county elections staff earlier this month, but didn’t get a response. So when he followed up, he was advised to file a complaint as the best way to get an answer to his question about whether she was eligible to run.
“As long as I am living in the city and, if I see something that doesn’t look like it’s according to the rules, I’m going to blow the whistle,” Turner said. “So many other cities have got a reputation of ignoring the rules and you wind up in a negative situation, so I just don’t want to see that happen here.”
Elections for the new mayor and five city council positions will be held in DeKalb County on March 21.