Georgia’s 2014 elections will most likely start two months earlier than in past statewide election seasons, with a general primary May 20, instead of in July. Candidates – including local ones – will need to qualify March 3-7.
It will be a busy election year. Races include those for governor and almost all other elected state officials, plus the crowded contest to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., in the U.S. Senate. The 1st Congressional District will elect a new member of the U.S. House for the first time in 22 years, since Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, is giving the seat up to be one of the Senate contenders.
The May date for the primary has been set by a federal judge for the congressional races. That the state and county primaries will be held same day remains highly probable, rather than certain, because state lawmakers must pass a law changing the state election date. That can’t happen until the Georgia General Assembly convenes.
“Until they reconvene in January, we don’t know for sure,” said Probate Clerk Cindy Reynolds, slated to become Bryan County’s election supervisor at midyear. “We’re kind of hoping or tending to go with that they will be, but it’s kind of up in the air.”
The May primary date results from U.S. District Judge Steve Jones’ ruling last summer that the state needed to give more time for overseas and military ballots to be received in the event of a runoff. After Jones initially set a June date, Secretary of State Brian Kemp and other state officials requested the even earlier date. The judge agreed.
But even the Secretary of State’s Office, which supervises Georgia’s elections, continues to leave the question open until the Legislature acts.
“We’re hopeful,” Jared Thomas, Kemp’s press secretary, said Thursday. “There’s legislation that has been drafted. It does have the support of the governor and many top legislators and we’re hopeful that it passes early in the session so that the counties can know in advance absolutely what is going to happen so they can prepare.”
Current officeholders and would-be challengers need to make decisions soon. The March 3-7 qualifying is six weeks to two months earlier than in the past. Qualifying for the 2010 primaries was the last week of April. In 2012, when Georgia’s primaries were July 31, qualifying didn’t occur until the week of May 20. The state has gone from its latest primary date in memory to its earliest.
Off to the races
Although no candidates are official until qualifying, races are already underway for congressional seats and the top state offices.
For the U.S. Senate seat, the website Ballotpedia.org as of this week listed 14 declared candidates. The Democrats were John Coyne, former State Sen. Steen Miles, Michelle Nunn, Branko Radulovacki and Todd Robinson. The Republicans were Randy Asman, U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, Art Gardner, U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, Derrick Grayson, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, David Perdue and Eugene Yu.
Declared candidates for governor include the incumbent Republican, Gov. Nathan Deal, and two Republican challengers, State School Superintendent John Barge and Dalton Mayor David Pennington, as well as a Democrat, State Sen. Jason Carter.
Other state posts up for election in 2014 include the lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, school superintendent, insurance commissioner, agriculture commissioner and labor commissioner.
Announced candidates for the 1st District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives include State Sen. Earl “Buddy” Carter, Darwin Carter, former State Sen. Jeff Chapman, Bob Johnson and John McCallum, all Republicans.
All seats in the Legislature are up for election. For Bryan County, this includes Buddy Carter’s District 1 Senate seat and the House seats in District 160, held by Rep. Jan Tankersley, R-Brooklet; District 164, held by Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah; and District 166, held by Rep. Ben Watson, R-Savannah. Watson is instead seeking the Senate seat being vacated by Carter.
Assuming the primary is May 20, a primary runoff, if one is needed, will be held July 22. The general election will be Nov. 4. The schedule allows three weeks of early voting before each election date, and early voting for the primary would begin April 28.