Last week’s mini-brouhaha over birth certificates, sheriff’s candidates and the primary ballot served as a reminder that the process of qualifying to run for local office in Georgia is one with some unusual quirks.
Because the primaries are actually part of the nominating process for political parties, local qualifying for primary elections is handled by the parties at the county level.
Civic lesson time.
If you want to run for sheriff of Forsyth County in a primary election, you do so by qualifying with the Republican or Democratic parties. If you plan to be a nonpartisan candidate you can follow a different process to appear on the general election ballot as an independent without going through the necessity of winning a primary nomination.
That said, local party officials have to follow state guidelines in allowing candidates to qualify, and if there are questions as to whether that is done, the local election board, comprised of representatives of both parties, has to decide whether a candidate should be on the ballot.
And of course if the decisions of the election board are deemed suspect they can be challenged through the courts.
It is a process that has potential for problems, and every now and then one crops up somewhere in Georgia. Because the primaries frequently are the only elections that count in many parts of the state, the power entrusted to a handful of local party representatives in each county is enormous, so it’s no surprise that every election cycle has its challenges.
More often than not, those party representatives are volunteers or party officers who have little knowledge or experience in qualifying candidates for election.
In the local case, state law requires candidates seeking the office of sheriff to produce a certified birth certificate and a high school diploma. None of the three candidates seeking the office did so by the qualifying deadline, but, when prompted, all did before the names of candidates were formally presented to and accepted by the county’s election board.
No harm, no foul.
When questions arose about the missing documentation at the end of qualifying, state officials were quick to point out that decisions on whether candidates met qualifying guidelines were to be decided by local party officials, and then the local election board, not the state, which is where you might expect such a decision to be made.
But the issue does raise some interesting questions, not the least of which is why a birth certificate is considered essential for a candidate running for sheriff, but not necessary for candidates for other offices. Is someone in the country illegally more likely to run for sheriff than a seat on the county school board or commission?