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Long year of elections looming
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Forsyth County News

If you think election campaign cycles of recent years have seemed interminably long in Georgia, just wait until 2014.

A federal judge on Thursday ruled the state’s election calendar doesn’t work for federal elections, as it doesn’t provide enough time between the primary and runoff for ballots to make their way to and from  military personnel serving overseas and other Americans living abroad.

Judge Steve Jones said he hoped the state’s legislature would have addressed the problem, but since it didn’t, took it upon himself to draft a new calendar for federal elections in the state. The end result? Qualifying will be held in March; the general primary on June 3; primary runoff, if necessary, on Aug. 6; and the general election on Nov. 4. In the rare case of a general election runoff, that balloting would take place Jan. 6, some six months after the primary.

Toss in a period for early voting and elections will be underway for more than half the year.

The judge’s order only deals with the election of candidates for federal offices, such as the U.S. Senate. The legislature now must decide if it wants to schedule state and local elections to coincide with the federal voting, or have two different sets of elections going on at different times.

Surely even the Georgia General Assembly will see the problems inherit in trying to have completely separate election cycles for federal and state races. At least we hope that’s the case.

Assuming the new election calendar stands, the timeframe from the general primary to the general election will be stretched from just more than three months to about five months. That means extra weeks of robocalls, campaign mailers and outlandish TV commercials.

The extended time frame could have a demonstrable impact on the outcome of elections. Campaigning for longer periods will be more expensive for candidates, making the accumulation of campaign funds more important than ever.

It also will be interesting to see if the early June primary will boost turnout, as some have bemoaned for years that the traditional mid-July primary date of previous years coincided with vacation time for many voters, reducing their participation in the process.

What may be harder to measure is the appetite of voters for a longer campaign cycle. Elections of recent years have left many voters weary of the process long before the final vote is counted, and adding additional weeks isn’t likely to relieve voter fatigue.

For now we’ll wait and see what the state chooses to do in scheduling its elections, then anxiously look forward to the opening of qualifying before winter officially turns to spring. For all those involved in the process, 2014 looms as a long, long election year.