ATLANTA — Legislation passed late Tuesday night in the House of Representatives would move local elections in Augusta and Georgia’s other consolidated cities and counties from November to July.
The late action revived a proposal that had stumbled in the Senate.
The date change was part of a bill, House Bill 899, that died in the Senate earlier in the day when the 23-19 vote fell five votes short of the minimum set in Senate rules. It was part of a broad, annual “housekeeping bill” updating technical provisions in the election law on behalf of the secretary of state and State Elections Board.
Democrats voted against the bill along with a few Republicans, but many Republicans were off the Senate floor at the time, according to observers, which is why the total was so far below the complete Senate.
After HB 899 died, legislative leaders scrambled to find another way to accomplish the same goals at the insistence of Secretary of State Brian Kemp. The House Rules Committee provided the solution by replacing the text of HB 899 in an existing bill, Senate Bill 92.
The House passed SB 92 around 10 p.m., moments before adjourning until Thursday. That move will give the Senate a second chance to pass the election-date change on the final day of the current legislative session.
Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta, sponsored the date move. She describes her aim as clarifying a law change last year that switched the dates of judicial elections to July.
Some consolidated cities interpreted that law as applying to them, while some like Augusta concluded its city charter exempted it.
“I thought it would be a simple fix,” Sims said Wednesday. “… The whole idea was to make it uniform.”
Democrats from Augusta oppose the date change and voted against it every time because they fear summer balloting will result in a low turnout among blacks who traditionally focus more on national elections, which are held in November.
Athens’ lawmakers split along party lines, with Republican Rep. Doug McKillip supporting it and Democrat Rep. Keith Heard opposed.