Federal, state election calendar split ‘problematic’

— State legislators may have to make Georgia’s elections calendar their top priority next year.

A federal judge ordered the state to move up many of the election-related dates for U.S. Senate and Congress seats that will appear on ballots across Georgia next year. The state elections calendar, which covers state and local elections, was not changed though.

The move creates two elections calendars in Georgia for 2014, and Secretary of State’s Office spokesman Jared Thomas said that creates a confusing situation. The change could be critical in a year when many statewide elected offices, including the governor and a senate seat, are on the ballot.

“It’s going to be highly problematic,” said Thomas. “It will be a big burden for our local elections offices because they are going to be running two sets of elections.”

U.S. District Court Judge Steve C. Jones ruled last week that Georgia’s tradition of holding runoff elections three weeks after the preceding election violates the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986. That law requires a 45-day window to pass between the regular election and the runoff for federal elections. The federal government had sued the state over the discrepancy.

Thomas said a possible solution to the two calendars issue may be to get the Georgia General Assembly to change the state elections calendar when it reconvenes in January. The state elections calendar covers statewide and local elections.

State officials aren’t sure what their next step will be, though.

“We’re definitely in discussions with legislative leaders about changing the calendar for state and local elections, and about possibly filing an appeal,” said Thomas.

The change in primary dates alone would be major for Georgians who are accustomed to state and local primary elections being held in mid-to-late July with runoffs in late August. A mid-March qualifying period would also be earlier than the traditional late-April to May dates.

Local elections officials will not be impacted by new qualifying dates because qualifying for federal seats in Georgia are done at the state capitol. Everything else, from lining up poll workers to preparing ballots for separate elections, will impact county-level officials, though.

If the 2014 state elections calendar is moved to match the new federal calendar, voters in Clayton and Henry counties can expect to see a radically different election schedule. The calendar would be: Candidate qualifying March 17-21, a primary election June 3, a primary run-off Aug. 5, a general election Nov. 4 and a general election runoff Jan. 6, 2015.