New special election primary plan sidesteps U.S. Senate controversy

    Rep. Doug Collins, a Gainesville Republican who’s running for a Senate seat this fall, sparred online Wednesday against Stacey Abrams, who launched the voting rights advocacy group Fair Fight 2020 after she lost her bid to be Georgia’s governor in 2018. File/Georgia Recorder

    Legislation to set special election primaries that could have influenced the outcome of a U.S. Senate race is now stripped of that controversy.

    But a new controversy emerged during a House committee’s discussion Tuesday of the revised version because county taxpayers might need to shoulder higher expenses to run elections.

    A House committee narrowly passed an amended House Bill 757 that would end the free-for-all primary for some special elections, but wouldn’t take effect until 2021, after the special election for the U.S. Senate seat held by Kelly Loeffler. An earlier version aimed to require a primary in next month’s election and set Loeffler up for a challenge against U.S. Rep. Doug Collins. Now that contest will take place in November with Democrats also in the field.

    While the revised bill allows for some special elections to be held at the same time as regular elections, local governments will end up footing the bill for extra balloting, said Ryan Germany, general counsel for the Office of the Secretary of State.

    “This would result in more elections for counties to run,” Germany said. “And that’s a pretty big thing, given that when we have an election, it’s not just one day.”

    The Association of County Commissioners Georgia also flagged the problem of added costs to its members.

    “That will come at a considerable cost to counties, particularly our rural counties,” said Todd Edwards, deputy legislative director for the association. “We are already in the process of rolling out new election equipment, there are additional costs accounted for that as it is.”

    Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said he’d prefer to have a commission study how a new party primary system should look in the future.

    “I thought it would be best to take the time and really unpack it,” he said. “Not just for the U.S. Senate seat, not just for the U.S. congressional seat, but also state (representatives), state senators and county commissioners. How broad and what are the different ramifications.”

    What started as a rush to pass a bill to change special election primary rules is now set on a more deliberate course.

    “The effective date being Jan. 1 (2021) was requested by members of our body and it was also challenged as one of the considerations given how the current (Senate) race is playing out,” said Shaw Blackmon, chairman of the House’s Governmental Affairs Committee.

    Stanley Dunlap
    Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.