ATLANTA — A fundamental shift in local and state elections was made at the state Capitol this week.
Gov. Nathan Deal signed House Bill 310, which sets May 20 as this year’s primary date for local and state offices, into law late Tuesday. The date is significant for voters because it means they will go to the polls two months earlier than they are accustomed to this year.
“The General Assembly acted swiftly on this issue, and I have as well, so that local election officials and candidates can prepare,” said Deal in a statement. “Given the federal mandate that we move up our primary date for federal elections, this is the best move for voters’ time and taxpayers’ money.”
The federal mandate Deal referred to is a U.S. District Court ruling from last summer that ordered the state to move the date of its federal primary for U.S. House and Senate seats up to the beginning of the summer to allow a required 45-day waiting period to lapse between the primary and the run-off.
The federal court intervened because, in the past, Georgia held its primary run-offs three weeks after the primary. That violated the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986.
The court only had the authority to change the federal primary, however, and it was up to state legislators to decide whether the local and state primary should be held on the same date.
This year’s primary run-off election will be held July 22, according to officials in Deal’s office.
Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office had called on the local and state primary to be attached to the federal primary date to spare local elections offices the expense of running two primaries this summer. Kemp thanked legislators and Deal for working to ensure the bill’s swift passage after it passed out of the legislature and sent to the governor’s desk last Friday.
Legislators made quick work of the legislation by pushing it through both chambers of the Georgia General Assembly within the first week of the 2014 legislative session.
“Gov. Deal and members of the General Assembly showed tremendous leadership in ensuring that Georgia voters will continue to have a uniform voting calendar rather than two separate calendars for federal and state elections,” said Kemp in a statement. “This would have been a tremendous fiscal cost to the counties and incredibly confusing for Georgia voters.
“As Georgia’s chief elections officer, I will continue to work each day to make sure Georgia has a secure, accessible and fair elections process,” Kemp added.
The change to an earlier primary will give candidates for local offices less time to prepare to run for offices, such as county commission, school board and legislative seats. Candidate qualifying for all offices will be held the week of March 3, which is nearly three months earlier than it was held in 2012, according to the Secretary of State’s website.