The November special Senate election for Kelly Loeffler’s seat will still happen without any party primaries. But state lawmakers are moving forward with plans to change that system starting next year.
House Bill 757 adds party primaries to Georgia special elections. Currently, those elections happen on one ballot, without primaries. When the bill was originally introduced last month, Gov. Brian Kemp threatened to veto it. He likened it to changing the rules in the middle of a game as campaigns for the seat had already started.
Pushing the effective date for the reform to next year was enough to garner the support of the majority of the House Government Affairs committee on Tuesday.
It would mean the special election for Loeffler’s Senate seat will still take the form of a so-called “jungle primary.” Loeffler is likely to be on the ballot with a fellow Republican, Congressman Doug Collins, and several Democratic challengers.
The vote was 9-6 to advance the bill to the full House. But some lawmakers wondered why the changes weren’t going into effect immediately.
“If the policy is good for Jan. 1, 2021, why isn’t it good for Feb. 17, 2020, going forward?” House Minority Leader Bob Trammell asked.
“I think that’s for every member to determine on their own, yes sir. It’s a fair point,” responded Rep. Shaw Blackmon, chairman of the Government Affairs committee, who is also one of the bill’s sponsors.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger attended the committee meeting and spoke in favor of the bill. He says the aim of the legislation is consistency.
“What is something that will be workable going forward for a long period of time and give people a consistent and workable basis for these situations that arise for special elections,” Raffensperger said.
Rep. Rick Williams, a Republican from Milledgeville, says he’s worry about the cost of adding primaries for special elections.
“My phone’s blowin’ up from my county commissioners that [say] we can’t afford more county elections,” Williams said. “I think it’s something we really need to look at. Some of these small rural counties are poor, and we’re putting a bind on them.”
“Special elections are that, they’re special,” said Todd Edwards, deputy legislative director with ACCG, the group that advocates for county governments in Georgia. “You don’t know how many you’re going to have a year, five or six? But they come at great cost to counties, especially rural counties. We’re just asking that if the state wants to expand those elections that the state pick up the tab, not county taxpayers.”
The bill still has to pass the full House, Senate and get the governor’s signature.