House Bill 310, which schedules the state general partisan primary on May 20 to align with the date of the federal primary and save local governments the expense of holding two primary elections, passed in the house 164-0, according to state records.
Now needing only the governor’s signature, the bill gives certainty to Augusta candidates and voters – accustomed to electing leaders of the consolidated government in November – who will elect a new mayor and five commissioners this year.
The Augusta elections were held on the first Tuesday in November until a Republican-led effort to move nonpartisan races to the summer ensnared Augusta-Richmond County, which had traditionally conducted elections as a city, not a county.
The U.S. Department of Justice rejected the effort as one to suppress Augusta minority voter turnout, but since the U.S. Supreme Court overruled part of the Voting Rights Act requiring preclearance of voting changes, state and local officials moved forward with the date change.
Retired Army Sgt. Sammie Sias, a candidate for commission District 4 who has been involved in Augusta voting rights issues, said concerns “that touch everybody” will get voters to the polls, regardless of the election date.
“If the candidates are out working hard and motivating people, I think we’ll get a good turnout,” Sias said.
The bill also moves candidate qualifying to the week of March 3 and requires candidates to file an additional report of campaign contributions on March 31.
The District 4 race has attracted at least three announced candidates: Sias, activist minister Rev. Melvin Ivey and retired Army combat parachutist Willie Peoples.
Seeking the mayor’s seat include four announced candidates: Sen. Hardie Davis, Commissioner Alvin Mason, businesswoman Helen Blocker-Adams and businessman Charles Cummings.
Running for the District 2 commission post are Veterans Administration retiree Dennis Williams and minister Cleveland Garrison, who filed a notice of his intent earlier this week.
Announced candidates for Super District 10 include incumbent Grady Smith and attorney Brandon Dial.
The district 6 and 8 commission races each have only one contender, journalist Ben Hasan and incumbent Wayne Guilfoyle.