Area election officials are gearing up for a busy week of candidate qualifying, with about four dozen offices coming open this year in Richmond and Columbia counties.
“I think there will be a flood of people coming in here Monday morning,” said Lynn Bailey, the executive director of the Richmond County Board of Elections.
Starting statewide at 9 a.m. Monday and running through noon Friday, qualifying for nonpartisan offices takes place at county elections offices, 535 Telfair St. in Augusta, and at party headquarters for partisan races.
In Richmond County, there are five Augusta Commission seats, five school board posts, two State Court judgeships and the civil court marshal’s job coming open this year, Bailey said.
Qualifying means submitting proof of identity, age and address within the required district lines and paying a fee, generally 3 percent of either the base or gross salary paid to the officeholder.
For Augusta commissioner, a candidate must have lived in Georgia for two years and in the commission district for a year before the May 24 election date, Bailey said. School board members need two years of residence in Richmond County and one year within their district.
Though most candidates qualify early in the week, others put it off, risking on occasion missing the noon deadline.
“I would not be surprised at all to have people wait till the last minute on Friday,” Bailey said.
Partisan offices representing Augusta-Richmond County coming open this year include sheriff, district attorney, tax commissioner, probate judge, clerk of court, coroner, two civil and magistrate court judgeships, solicitor general, three state Senate seats and five state representative posts.
The countywide partisan seats qualify at either Democratic Party headquarters, 1101 Greene St., or Republican Party headquarters, 505 Courthouse Lane in Augusta, while candidates for state House and Senate qualify in Atlanta. Candidates for five nonpartisan judgeships of the Augusta Circuit – Richmond, Columbia and Burke counties – also qualify in Atlanta.
Including the multicounty posts, such as district attorney, Columbia County this year has more than 20 seats coming open, most of them partisan races with a party nominee selected May 24 to go on the Nov. 8 ballot.
The Columbia County races include commission districts 2 and 3, clerk of court, coroner, probate judge, magistrate court judge, sheriff and tax commissioner.
Republican candidates qualify at 600 Ponder Place Drive in Evans and Democrats at Grovetown City Hall, 103 Old Wrightsboro Road.
Seats with no incumbent running are Senate District 24, House District 123, clerk of Richmond County Superior Court, Richmond County solicitor general, the Superior Court judgeship held by J. Carlisle Overstreet and the Richmond County State Court judgeship held by John Flythe.
Having candidate qualifying so soon after Super Tuesday came about with the General Assembly’s decision to move nonpartisan elections (except for school board) to the party primary date May 24, and it’s keeping election staff busy.
“It’s interesting to have it follow so closely on the heels of a major election,” Bailey said.
Despite the large number of races, the level of interest in local seats has been disappointing but not surprising to some observers.
“If you want to change the outcome for Augusta, change the people on the commission,” said Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, now completing his second term on the 10-member body.
Only one of the five open Augusta Commission seats will have no incumbent, as District 5 Commissioner Bill Lockett is term-limited. Districts 3 and 7 have no declared candidates besides the incumbent, while there is one announced challenger apiece for the District 1 and Super District 9 incumbents.
The level of interest could stem from the time demand versus compensation for the part-time posts, which pay $14,000 annually and tend to attract retirees with time to do the jobs.
“It takes someone who is self-employed successfully, who can leave their business in the hands of capable employees,” said businessman Ed Presnell, who has worked with a number of commission campaigns over the years.
“If somebody is working, they need to have the full and complete blessing of their employer,” Presnell said.
Jordan Johnson, the head of Young Democrats of Augusta, said many of his members are politically engaged but too busy to run for a part-time seat.
With a handful of exceptions, “they don’t have time to dedicate to running for office,” Johnson said.
Still, likely because of Donald Trump’s campaign for president, members are increasingly attuned to politics and expected to make their opinions known at the polls, he said.