Monday, August 29, 2011

New Georgia Presidential Primary Law Passes Muster with DOJ

Jim Galloway at the Atlanta Journal Constitution (via Secretary of State Brian Kemp's office) is reporting that a series of new elections laws passed by the Georgia General Assembly this past session have been precleared by the Justice Department (in accordance with the Section V of the Voting Rights Act). On the list of laws reaching preclearance was the bill that shifted the presidential primary date setting authority from the legislature to the secretary of state. That allows the Peach state more leeway in setting its date than in the past when a decision had to be made before the legislature adjourned in late April/early May. The secretary of state can now assess the lay of the land with other states on the primary calendar before having to set a date before December 1 in the year preceding a presidential election.

This is the same method -- sans the requirement that a decision be made by a particular date -- that New Hampshire has used to stay at the front of the queue since 1976. As long as the change in no way affected minority voting rights -- and there is no evidence that it does -- then the plan was always going to be okayed by the federal government.

The full press release from Secretary Kemp:

Secretary of State Kemp Announces Receipt of Election Legislation Preclearance from U.S. Department of Justice

Atlanta – Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced today that his agency’s 2011 legislation affecting election processes have received approval or “preclearance” from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Each bill was passed during the 2011 session of the Georgia General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Nathan Deal. Under federal law, Georgia must obtain federal preclearance of any change affecting voting by filing suit in federal court or by obtaining administrative preclearance through the DOJ.

Secretary Kemp said, “These bills reflect our commitment to improving Georgia’s election code and strengthening our election laws and procedures, particularly by creating cost savings and increasing efficiencies at the state, county and local government levels.”

The following election bills received DOJ preclearance:

HB 92 (Sponsored by Rep. Mark Hamilton): Changes the time period for in-person early voting

HB 92 provides a uniform starting date for Georgia elections by reducing the in-person early voting period to the three weeks prior to Election Day. Reducing the in-person early voting period will free up critically needed resources in Georgia counties, and does not affect a voter’s option or ability to cast a mail-in absentee ballot 45 days prior to Election Day. Historically, approximately eighty percent of early voters cast their ballot during the three weeks prior to Election Day.

HB 158 (Sponsored by Rep. James Mills): Changes the date of judicial and other non-partisan races from November to the date of the general primary

HB 158 can prevent adding an extra election date in the event of a run-off, and the associated costs to Georgia’s counties.

HB 302 (Sponsored by Rep. Donna Sheldon): Changes the date of the general primary in even-numbered years following a census from the next-to-last last Tuesday in August to the last Tuesday in July

HB 302 allows the state to meet federal UOCAVA requirements for our military and overseas voters.

HB 454 (Sponsored by Rep. Mark Hamilton): Provides for the Secretary of State to set the date of the presidential preference primary

HB 454 gives the state more options and flexibility to determine when it will hold its presidential preference primary, and will ensure that the voices of Georgia’s voters are heard and are relevant in the presidential candidate nomination process. The Secretary of State must set the date no later than December 1 in the year prior to the primary, and the date must be no later than the second Tuesday in June of the primary year. Further, there must be a period of at least 60 days between the day when the Secretary of State sets the date and the date of the primary.

Brian Kemp has been Secretary of State since January, 2010. Among the office’s wide-ranging responsibilities, the Secretary of State is charged with conducting efficient and secure elections, the registration of corporations, and the regulation of securities and professional license holders. The office also oversees the Georgia Archives.

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