With all of the attention directed at the 2016 presidential nomination contests, it would be easy to overlook a much more immediate election here in Georgia. Even though Georgians participated in the presidential preference primary on March 1, Georgia’s Democratic and Republican primary to determine the parties’ nominees for federal, state and local positions has yet to occur.
That happens on May 24 when Georgia voters can vote in Georgia’s primary election. In addition to voting on nominees for federal, state, and local public offices, Georgians will also elect judges from local courts to Georgia’s highest court. Already, absentee ballots are on the way and early voting starts on May 2 with a built in Saturday voting on May 14.
In the past, Georgia’s primary nominees have been largely selected the moment qualifying ends if only one candidate qualifies. But, as the presidential cycle has proven, 2016 has been anything other than an ordinary election year. As a result, Georgians have a bumper crop of contested primaries in both the Democratic and Republican primary elections (although certainly the most activity will be in the Republican primary.)
In addition, an unusually high number of judges have decided to serve out their term and not seek reelection, leaving a number of contested judicial races. Add to these vacancies judges with opposition, and these races will also be decided by voters in the nonpartisan election on May 24. However, none of Georgia’s appellate judges (the Georgia Supreme Court and the Georgia Court of Appeals) have opposition and so those races were decided when qualifying ended. Bear in mind, Georgia’s judicial races are nonpartisan and are finally decided on primary election day.
For newcomers, Georgia’s process is a little different from most other states. Voters in Georgia do not register by political party when they register to vote. Instead, Georgia conducts open primaries which means that any Georgia voter is allowed to choose between voting in either the Democratic or Republican primary election but each voter can only pick one, and the nonpartisan judicial races are on every ballot.
That selection will also dictate which runoff a voter may vote in. If, for instance, a voter chooses to vote in the Democratic primary on primary election day, then that voter may only vote in the Democratic primary run-off election.
No voter may vote in one party’s primary election and the other party’s primary run-off election. But, if a voter did not vote in the primary election, the voter may vote in either the Democratic or the Republican primary run-off election which will be held on July 26.
All Georgia voters get to vote in the nonpartisan elections for judges in the nonpartisan ballot included with the primary ballot. Any runoffs in the nonpartisan election will also be held on July 26. Early voting for both the general primary run-off election and the nonpartisan election will begin on July 5.
Georgia also permits third-party candidates and write-in candidates with their own deadlines. In recent years, these candidates have made a big difference, forcing runoffs in the general election.
The nominees for federal, state, and local public offices from both the Democratic Party of Georgia and the Georgia Republican Party, as well as any third party or write-in candidates, will face off in the general election on Nov. 8 — the same day voters across the United States will cast their votes for president. Early voting for the general election will begin on Oct. 17.
Believe it or not, if there are general election runoffs (which frequently happens since Georgia does often have third-party or independent candidates), there are actually two different sets of dates. For state and local offices, the general election runoff will be on Dec. 6. For federal offices, the general election runoff will be held on Jan. 10.
Certainly, the vast majority of the attention throughout the rest of this year will remain on the presidential election. However, decisions made by local officials, state officials, and other federal officials can, and often do, have as much impact on the lives of average Georgians as the presidency. As a result, just as much focus should be given by voters to these other positions as the highest office.
So, remember that the next major event on the horizon is not the presidential election or even the national political conventions in July. It is Georgia’s primary and nonpartisan election on May 24. Download the ballot from your county election website, and take a look at it well before voting. There are many choices to be made and all of them are important.
Apply for an absentee ballot if needed or take advantage of the early voting that begins on May 2. And remember, Saturday voting is available on May 14. So much more is at stake than just electing the next president.