Legislature OKs election calendar changes

by Sarah Fay Campbell

A law drastically changing Georgia's usual election calendar was quickly passed during the first week of the Georgia General Assembly session.

House Bill 310 puts Georgia's state and local elections in line with federal elections, which had to be changed following a lawsuit filed against the state. The U.S. Justice Department sued Georgia, saying that overseas and military voters were disadvantaged because runoff elections were held only 21 days after primary and general elections. The judge ruled that absentee ballots for runoffs had to be mailed at least 45 days before the election.

On Monday, the first day of the 2014 legislative session, the Georgia State Senate took up HB 310, an ethics and campaign finance bill that had been introduced last year, and amended it to include the election date changes.

The bill had passed the House last year, so all that was needed was for the House to agree to the changes. The House did so Friday, by a large margin, and the bill now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.

The election date changes were considered to be among the most important things the legislature is dealing with this session.

'I'm very glad it passed and I'm glad it went ahead and passed today,' said Coweta Elections Superintendent Jane Scoggins on Friday. She had been waiting to send out letters to all the polling places, letting them know about the upcoming election dates. 'I didn't want to do it before I was sure,' she said.

Qualifying for federal, state, and local offices will be held the first week of March. It's usually in late April.

The primary and non-partisan election will be held May 20, and a runoff, if needed, will be July 22.

Without the change to state election dates, there would have been two separate election schedules, for federal and state elections. The federal court ruling only applied to federal elections.

Most everyone agreed having two election schedules would be a bad idea.

'For me, it is a no-brainer,' said Scoggins.

However, there will be separate election dates for general election runoffs.

If there are runoffs after the November elections, the state runoff will be Dec. 2, and the federal runoff will be Jan. 6, Scoggins said. The earlier date for the s t at e r unof f will allow those elected to state and local offices to be sworn in on Jan. 1, instead of having to wait until mid-January for election results to be certified. Scoggins doesn't expect too many federal runoffs, anyway, since they would all be for partisan offices. A third-party candidate would have to get a good number of votes to force a runoff.

HB 310 also made some changes to the requirements for filing campaign finance disclosures. Current public office holders will need to file a new report by Jan. 31 - even though they just filed one in December, Scoggins said. As part of the ethics laws passed last year, local office holders and candidates must file paper reports with local elections superintendents, instead of the online reports that have been used for the past several years.

Local offices up for election this year include four seats on the Coweta County Board of Education and two on the Coweta County Board of Commissioners.

On the school board, the seats are District One at large, currently held by Larry Robertson; District One, held by Amy Dees; District Three, held by Harry Mullins; and District Four, held by Graylin Ward.

County Commission districts are District 2, held by Tim Lassetter; and District 3, held by Bob Blackburn.

The other local seat up is the Coweta State Court judgeship held by Seay Van Patten Poulakos.

All state legislators, as well as congressmen and one U.S. Senate seat, are up, as are state offices including governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, labor commissioner, school superintendent and secretary of state.

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