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Ninth District hopefuls may get head start
Deal's decision leaves room for special election
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Forsyth County News


*  U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal resigns post.

When District 9 U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal steps down March 8, the governor will have 10 days to make a decision on when to replace him.

Gov. Sonny Perdue can choose to wait until the July 20 primary election, as originally planned before Deal’s decision to step down, or to push up the date as early as April.

The governor must issue an official notice of the vacant seat and set a date for a special election, which must be held at least 30 days after the notice.

While candidates have said they are prepared for an election next month, Forsyth County election officials have told the governor they’d rather wait until July.  

If not, said Supervisor of Elections Barbara Luth, it will "be a lot of work in a short amount of time.”

“We will do it on any date that the governor says and we will be prepared for it no matter what,” she said. “But it will put an impact on us as far as budget and trying to get poll workers and locations.”

Luth estimates a special election would cost the county as much as $50,000.

Even if the governor were to make a decision Monday, officials won't have much time to prepare.

Gary J. Smith, chairman of the county’s election board, said absentee and overseas ballots should be sent 30 days before a special election.

“The problem you get into with something like this would be would we even have time to print a ballot,” he said.

Smith also noted other officeholders could step down from their current position to run for Deal’s seat, requiring other special elections.

“This could cause one of those house-of-cards effects,” he said. “You’ve got to consider all the counties involved in this thing.”

The 9th Congressional District includes portions of 15 counties, including Forsyth, Dawson and Hall.

Hall County Interim Elections Director Charlotte Sosebee said a special election would add to preparations for an already hectic election season.

Sosebee said the elections office had begun preparations for the July primary, but is notifying people of the special election.

“We will have to do everything related to an election,” Sosebee said.

State officials are also considering holding the special election at the same time as the July primary, said Bert Brantley, a spokesman for Perdue.

“There’s no end date,” he said. “So anything is possible from that date forward.”

If the governor decides to set the special election in July, it would not affect the regularly scheduled primary election.

“The secretary of state will set qualifying dates for whenever the special election is held and those dates could be or could not be congruent with the primary election,” Brantley said.

“The primary election will go on as scheduled no matter what happens with the special election.”

Glenda Ferguson, elections supervisor and chief registrar of Dawson County, said holding the special election in July would be more economical.

“It would be very difficult for us to get together a (standalone) special election,” Ferguson said. “If we did, you’re talking anywhere from $9,000 to $15,000.”

Most of the candidates in the crowded 9th District race said Monday that they plan to run in the special election.

Bill Stephens, one of more than a handful of Republican candidates, said he’s looking forward to representing Forsyth County whenever the election is held.

“The sooner the better,” said Stephens, a former state senator. “I just feel good about where we are and where we can be in a short period of time.”

Fellow Republican candidate District 12 state Rep. Tom Graves of Ranger said he'll await the governor’s decision.

Whether April or July, Graves said his “campaign has been working hard for the last 10 months."

"We’ve raised the most money," he said. “The Graves campaign and the GA-9 Freedom Fighters are ready, whether we have an election soon rather than later.”

The special election would be a nonpartisan race without a party primary, though ballots would note all candidates affiliated with a party.

With a field of about 10 candidates, including two Democrats and an Independent, a runoff is likely.

The runoff date, which would also be established by the governor, would pit the top two vote-getters against each other, regardless of party.

Unlike U.S. Senate seats, the state governor cannot appoint U.S. House representatives.  

Some other 9th District candidates, including state Rep. Bobby Reese of Sugar Hill, were not certain Monday whether they'd run in a special election.

Reese said his fiscally conservative values may contradict participating in an expensive special contest.

Gainesville candidate Eugene Moon said he did not think an independent candidate was allowed to participate in a special election.

Ringgold businessman Jeremy Jones went as far as to say he would drop out of the general election if elected in a special election.

Campaigning while in office would be a disservice to constituents, Jones said.

“I think it is incumbent upon whoever wins the special election to commit themselves to serving the people of Georgia,” Jones said.

Running in the special election will mean that candidates who currently hold other offices, like Graves, Reese, state Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, would have to resign from their posts.
Ashley Fielding and Melissa Weinman of the FCN regional staff contributed to this report.