Federal Judge Rules to Change Georgia's 2014 Election Calendar

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Federal Judge Rules to Change Georgia's 2014 Election Calendar
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A federal judge in Georgia ruled to change the state's 2014 election calendar to comply with federal …

Going into the 2014 election in Georgia, we won't know who will win the governor's race, the open Senate seat, the congressional delegation, or any of the statewide and local offices up for grabs. We don't even know the nominees yet. But we do know that the election calendar could look a lot different than usual, thanks to a North Georgia federal judge's ruling this week.

Federal Absentee Voting Law

For years, military and citizen voters abroad experienced a number of problems. As a result, Congress passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act in 2009 to expand the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, saying absentee ballots need to be sent out at least 45 days before a federal election to allow citizens and military overseas to vote in time.

The Problem in Georgia

While Georgia allows enough time from the end of their primary season to the fall election to accommodate the MOVE Act, it's another story for the state's elections and runoffs between the top two candidates, held if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote. The Georgia legislature typically sets the election calendar, and runoffs were scheduled three to four weeks after primary and general elections. For example, in Georgia's 2010 elections, the primary was held on July 20 and the primary runoff was August 10, 21 days later.

The Justice Department sued Georgia for non-compliance with the MOVE Act in June 2012, saying absentee ballots for runoffs must be available to be sent at least 45 days prior to the runoff elections.

Judge Rules to Reset Calendar

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones from North Georgia ruled yesterday to change the state's 2014 election calendar. According to the ruling, the federal primary will be held on June 3, 2014, while the primary for state and local elections will be held on July 15, 2014. The decision schedules all primary runoffs for August 5, 2014, making Georgia's federal elections meet MOVE Act timing requirements.

Some state and local officials are concerned about having two primaries and could appeal the decision. But the Georgia legislature could also solve the problem by passing a law making the state and local primary the same day as the federal primary to avoid a lower turnout and greater expense for both contests.

Response From Georgia Officials

"Although the order creates an earlier federal primary date and longer federal runoff, the secretary of state's office will continue to provide secure elections and ensure each individual vote counts," said Cody Whitlock, a representative with the Georgia secretary of state's office, in an interview.

"While the secretary of state's office respects the decision, we are currently reviewing possible avenues and hope to work with Gov. Deal and the General Assembly to address the differing federal and state election calendars in the most cost-efficient manner," Whitlock said.

Regardless of the logistical issues and court battles, elected officials are strongly supportive of the military vote. "I think it is vitally important that all votes be counted, especially of those serving in uniform," said State Rep. John Pezold (R-Fortson) in an interview. Pezold, who was elected to his first term in 2012, added, "In the past, the process was rushed, and votes were counted before all of them were in. I think having the runoff 45 days after the primary is a good idea."

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia.

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