Valdosta Daily Times

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October 17, 2013

Judge won’t let Ga. keep federal primary in July

ATLANTA — A federal judge has rejected Georgia’s request to keep the state’s federal primary election in July of next year while it appeals his ruling setting the primary two months earlier.

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones in Atlanta issued his order Tuesday. Jones set a new election calendar for Georgia in July after the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit saying Georgia wasn’t allowing enough time for military members and others living overseas to return absentee ballots in federal runoff elections.

The state last month appealed Jones’ order to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and asked Jones to delay the implementation of his ruling pending that appeal.

Jared Thomas, a spokesman for Secretary of State Brian Kemp, whose office oversees elections, said state officials weren’t surprised by Jones’ order and felt the court had treated the state fairly.

Georgia requires candidates to get 50 percent plus one vote to be declared the winner in a primary or general election. If no candidate reaches that threshold, the top two vote getters advance to a runoff. Under current state law, runoffs are held three weeks after a primary and four weeks after a general election.

But federal law requires that absentee ballots be sent to military and other overseas residents at least 45 days before a primary or general election with federal offices on the ballot.

Jones’ July order reset the federal primary for June 3, but he later granted a request from Kemp to shift the primary to May 20 to avoid having early voting conflict with the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

The new calendar affects only federal elections. Unless the Legislature changes the state election calendar in the upcoming session, there will be different schedules for state and federal races in 2014.

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