2014 Vot­ing

Pri­mary to be May 20

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­news.com

The 2014 elec­tion sea­son will get off to a quicker-than-usual start in Ge­or­gia with the state’s Pri­mary Elec­tion set for May 20, nearly two full months ear­lier than the tra­di­tional mid-July date.

The change will have an ef­fect on vot­ers, by push­ing up voter reg­is­tra­tion dates and mak­ing it likely more vot­ers will be around to vote in per­son be­fore sum­mer hol­i­days kick in, and can­di­dates, who will need to de­cide if they’re run­ning ear­lier, should they be­gin cam­paign­ing ear­lier.

The ear­lier dates are the re­sult of a fed­eral judge’s 2013 court or­der, which re­quired Ge­or­gia to meet a fed­eral law re­quir­ing a 45-day pe­riod be­tween an elec­tion and a runoff. The 45-day pe­riod is aimed at giv­ing over­seas mil­i­tary per­son­nel time to vote in a runoff; Ge­or­gia has only had a three-week break be­tween an elec­tion and runoff.

While the fed­eral judge’s or­der only ap­plies to fed­eral elec­tions, county of­fi­cials in Ge­or­gia won’t want to pay to hold sep­a­rate elec­tions for fed­eral of­fices and state and lo­cal po­si­tions. Sen. Rick Jef­fares (R-Locust Grove, a floor leader and chair­man of the ethics com­mis­sion, said a bill to change state and lo­cal elec­tions is likely to be in­tro­duced the first day of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion, Jan. 13.

As­sum­ing the bill be­comes law, any Ge­or­gian plan­ning to run for fed­eral, state or lo­cal of­fice will need to qual­ify to run for of­fice much ear­lier as well, be­tween March 3 and March 7 (in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates must qual­ify be­fore June 27 to par­tic­i­pate in the gen­eral elec­tion).

On the other side, vot­ers must be reg­is­tered to vote by April 21 in or­der to vote in the pri­mary, with early vot­ing set to start April 28. Some state lead­ers be­lieve the ear­lier Pri­mary will in­crease par­tic­i­pa­tion.

“If you wait un­til June or July, a lot of peo­ple are out of school and run to Florida. If we do it May be­fore schools lets out, I think it’s our best chance to get peo­ple to show up to vote,” Jef­fares said, adding it gives leg­is­la­tors a chance to ac­tu­ally have a sum­mer va­ca­tion. “I’m happy mov­ing it up.”

Newton County Elec­tions Su­per­vi­sor Donna Mor­ri­son said her of­fice will work to meet the ear­lier dead­lines but said she didn’t know how the changed dead­lines would af­fect voter turnout, not­ing that many peo­ple make prepa­ra­tions to vote early or vote by mail dur­ing pri­maries. She said the new dates would be posted on the county’s web­site and em­ploy­ees and Board of Elec­tion mem­bers would work to spread word about the ear­lier dates.

Faster leg­isla­tive ses­sion

The elec­tion date changes are also ex­pected to

speed up the pace of busi­ness in At­lanta, and the Ge­or­gia Gen­eral As­sem­bly could wrap up its busi­ness by mid-March be­cause of a state law that doesn’t al­low sit­ting leg­is­la­tors to raise cam­paign funds while the Gen­eral As­sem­bly is in ses­sion. Chal­lengers don’t have the same re­stric­tions.

Jef­fares said Repub­li­can lead­ers are aim­ing to end the ses­sion March 16, a month or two be­fore the ses­sion nor­mally wraps up.

“The Repub­li­can cau­cus is meet­ing Mon­day to talk about all the things we need to do and to do it all quick,” he said Thurs- day.

Jef­fares said he didn’t think the faster ses­sion would re­ally af­fect busi­ness, be­cause the Gen­eral As­sem­bly is in the sec­ond year of a two-year cy­cle and many bills are al­ready pend­ing from 2013. Jef­fares said the first cou­ple weeks of ses­sion gen­er­ally start off slower, so the short­ened ses­sion might prompt peo­ple to get up to full speed from day one.

In ad­di­tion, any leg­is­la­tors try­ing to get a bill passed in 2014 can pre­file their bill be­fore the ses­sion starts to give it a bet­ter chance of be­ing heard early, he said.

Top pri­or­i­ties

The bud­get will once again be the top pri­or­ity, Jef­fares said, and state of­fi­cials face more dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions as rev­enues haven’t grown as much as hoped.

The only other hot topic Jef­fares sees for the 2014 ses­sion is the re­newal of 2013 talks to ex­pand gun ac­cess across the state.

The bill died last year mainly over the is­sue of whether to al­low con­cealed guns to be car­ried on most parts of col­lege cam­puses. The bill also would al­low con­cealed guns in most pub­lic build­ings, pub­lic hous­ing and in bars and churches that opted to al­low guns.

Much of the state’s fo­cus will be on the races for gov­er­nor and U.S. Se­nate, Jef­fares said, with Jimmy Carter’s grand­son Ja­son Carter’s en­trance into the gov­er­nor’s race adding some in­trigue.

file photo /The Cov­ing­ton News

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