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Opinion opens door to July mayor, commission elections

Friday, Oct. 18, 2013 7:35 PM
Last updated Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013 1:51 AM
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Next year’s elections for Augusta mayor and five commissioners could happen in July or sooner, according to a new opinion from a deputy Georgia attorney general.

State Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynes­boro, said he asked for the opinion to clarify the question “on many people’s minds” after a June U.S. Su­preme Court ruling invalidated the section of the Voting Rights Act that required most South­ern states to obtain Department of Justice preclearance for voting changes.

The department had objected last year to Rep. Barbara Sims’ effort to bring nonpartisan November elections for Augusta mayor and commissioners in line with earlier state changes that moved all nonpartisan races to July. Under the consolidation charter, and according to opinions issued by the city law office and a deputy attorney general, Augusta is a city for election purposes, not a county, and exempt from the change.

With the Supreme Court ruling, the Justice Department’s objection no longer applies, Deputy Attorney General Dennis Dunn said in the Sept. 23 opinion letter to Stone, obtained Friday by The Augusta Chron­icle.

“My advice to you is that it appears that the consolidated government election date provision may now be implemented and enforced,” Dunn wrote.

In a normal year, that means holding the nonpartisan races on the third Tues­day in July, much sooner than anticipated for the four candidates so far who have declared they will run for mayor: state Sen.
Hardie Davis, Helen Blocker Adams, Commissioner Al­vin Mason and Charles Cum­mings.

Davis, who hadn’t seen the opinion, called the potential move “very problematic,” particularly in light of a pending change the Legislature is expected to consider in Jan­uary: Bringing the date of the general primary and nonpartisan races in line with federal elections to be held May 20.

“We could be on the verge of the earliest primary and the earliest nonpartisan elections in the history of our city,” he said.

Stone said earlier elections could be beneficial to the winners, who would have more time to orient themselves before taking a seat. A shorter period between qualifying dates and elections, too, “encourages people to get involved in public service,” while November elections have a greater potential for runoff as more people are likely to run, he said.

Dunn’s opinion cautioned that litigation or even Justice De­part­­ment intervention was possible should the change be enforced because there is no settled case law on the subject.

Richmond County Board of Elec­tions Executive Di­rec­tor Lynn Bailey said the last word she had on local election dates was the Jus­tice Department’s 2012 objection. She expects to learn more, including the potential move to May, in the coming months.

“Those are all possible scenarios, so we wait,” Bailey said.



BACKGROUND: A bill that changed the dates of most nonpartisan county elections and those of consolidated governments from November to July became Georgia law in 2011. Augusta General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie and Deputy Georgia Attorney General Dennis Dunn held that under Augusta’s charter, the government operates as a municipality for election purposes. Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta, proposed a bill that sought to consider all consolidated state governments as counties required to hold July elections.


• In December, the U.S. Justice Department rejected Sims’ measure as a veiled effort to dilute minority voting strength in the city.

• In June, a divided Supreme Court voided part of the Voting Rights Act, giving new hope to the Republican-led effort to move Augusta’s elections to July.

• In a Sept. 23 letter, Dunn told state Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, that the “consolidated government election date provision” may be enforced.

– From staff reports

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Little Lamb
Little Lamb 10/18/13 - 09:55 pm
Wait until you see the whites of their eyes.

I favor the July non-partisan election for us to elect our commissioners and mayor. After all, that's how Columbus, Athens, and (soon) Macon do it. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

However, those of us who favor it must lie low. Don't mention it again until after the General Assembly adjourns in April. Otherwise, people will get riled up and mess the thing up again.

Just be quiet.

Pops 10/18/13 - 10:30 pm
I'll just bet

Mr. Fennoy is going to be concerned.......about something.....

Riverman1 10/19/13 - 06:27 am
Sure... the black folks won't

Sure... the black folks won't like it.

Bodhisattva 10/19/13 - 06:33 am
The GOP like elections that

The GOP like elections that have the lowest turnout possible. It doesn't matter that it costs the taxpayers to hold an extra election when they could just as well include all races on existing November ballots. Big money and the political bosses have more influence on the low turnout races, just the way the GOP likes it. The hand picked candidates for mayor and commissioner stand a better chance of winning. When you really need that one crucial vote to steal millions of taxpayers' dollars for something like the TEE Center, the oddball election scheduling comes in handy. Just another page out of the GOP playbook to rig and steal elections.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 10/19/13 - 07:30 am

Bodhisattva is incorrect in saying that a July election will be "extra," thus adding costs. State law requires a summertime election for party primaries and non-partisan elections (i.e., judges and a few other administrative-type positions). This law has been in effect for decades if not a hundred years.

The only new wrinkle was when the General Assembly tweaked the law in 2011 to make it more consistent. Some jurisdictions (such as Augusta) were holding some non-partisan elections (the judges) in July and then holding the rest of their non-partisan elections in November. The General Assembly just wanted to make it clear that all non-partisan elections were supposed to be held in July.

Bulldog 10/19/13 - 08:29 am

Demagogues will no doubt rail against this because their low information constituents will have difficulty dealing with it. Without a party designation to guide them they will be unable to determine who to vote for. And having an election outside the traditional November time frame will leave them completely lost. How sad! All those racists who vote purely based on skin color will be really upset.

deestafford 10/19/13 - 08:48 am
Those who are against them will oppose it because they

think their constituents are too stupid and lazy to turn out at any time not "normal" when "walking around money" can be distributed.

Darby 10/20/13 - 09:44 pm
You gotta love it when Bod

You gotta love it when Bod (or any Democrat) talks about "stealing" taxpayer money. He should know, they wrote the book.

Elections will be held in July anyway. The discussion is about adding and consolidating more slots onto the existing ballot.

Democrats squeal about "suppression" of "minority" votes anytime it pleases them. What they are really saying is that it costs the party too much to buy the same votes twice in a single year.

We appreciate that, given that the funds used to buy those votes alway comes either directly or indirectly from the taxpayer. For example, Dems give taxpayer money to their labor union goons, Planned Parenthood, teachers unions etc, who turn around and give it back to the campaign, thereby benefiting all kindred spirtits.

They have it down to a science.

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