Starting Monday, candidates for mayor, five Augusta Commission seats, five Richmond County Board of Education seats and two state court judgeships have a 4½-day window to make their intentions official and get their names on the ballot.
During this “qualifying” period, held in county election offices across the state, candidates for local elections such as Augusta’s will spell their names as they want them to appear on the ballot, pay a fee and sign a form swearing they are qualified to hold the posts they are seeking, said county Board of Elections Executive Director Lynn Bailey.
The week of qualifying often bears a tone of suspense, as candidates delay making their intentions official until they know what an opponent is doing, sometimes until the last possible moment.
With qualifying ending at noon Friday, March 7, Bailey offered a warning to those unfamiliar with downtown train traffic. A slow-moving Sixth Street train could prove an impassable barrier to a potential candidate who waits until the last minute, she said.
Another avoidable qualifying week mishap is candidates being unfamiliar with the requirements for office, most notably commission and school board district residency, in district lines that were redrawn last year, Bailey said.
“It’s a year following redistricting, and it’s important they know in which district they reside,” she said.
Some 28 candidates – including six seeking the mayor’s office – have announced plans to seek one of the 13 open seats and begin accepting campaign contributions, another election requirement. Barring a challenge to the candidate’s qualifications, the names of qualified candidates will appear on the May 20 ballot, or in the case of the school board, the Nov. 4 ballot.
The city charter requires commission candidates to live in their district and be a resident there for one year and of the state for two years.
Candidates must be at least age 21 and eligible to vote for themselves, in that they aren’t convicted felons who haven’t had their voting rights restored. They cannot have just served two consecutive commission terms, because the charter provides for term limits.
The requirements are the same for candidates for mayor, who represents the entirety of the county.
State court judges must be 25 years old, be admitted to practice law for five years, live in Augusta and have lived in Georgia for three years.
The final qualifying hurdle is the reason most candidates have already announced their campaigns: the qualifying fee.
The fee to run for commission is $360 and $100 for school board.
For the full-time positions of mayor and state court judge, the fee is much higher. A mayoral candidate must pay $1,950 to qualify.
The judge’s fee is $4,462.23 for the seat held by Chief State Court Judge Richard Slaby and $4,354 for the seat held by Judge David Watkins.
Next week doubles as the qualifying period for the May 20 state and federal party primaries, including several Augusta state House and Senate seats, but Democrat or Republican candidates for those offices qualify with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office in Atlanta.