Saturday, February 13, 2016

Oconee County Will Need Special Election On Nov. 8 To Fill Vacancy If Daniell Runs For Chairman

Candidacy Announced

Oconee County will hold a special election on Nov. 8 to fill Post 2 on the Board of Commissioners if John Daniell follows through on his announced plans to seek the position of Commission chair in the May 24 Republican primary.

That Nov. 8 date became firm on Friday when Daniell opted not to resign his current position as Post 2 Commissioner.

State law requires a lapse of 90 days between the call of an election that is held on a statewide general primary date and the primary election itself.

Daniell must resign his current post as soon as he qualifies for the chair position. The first day he can qualify is March 8, which is 77 days before the May 24 primary. The last time he can qualify is noon on March 11.

State law is complex, setting different times that special elections can be held in an even and in an odd numbered year.

The first of the allowed dates for a special election this year would have been with the presidential primary, which is underway.

As of the end of the day on Friday, 216 (1 percent) of Oconee County’s 21,402 active voters had cast a ballot in that primary, with 46 (21 percent) of those individuals selecting a Democratic ballot and 170 selecting a Republican ballot.

Other Candidates

Former Oconee County Commissioner Chuck Horton told me this morning he is considering running for Daniell’s unexpired term in the special election, but he also said he would not rule out running for a Commission seat in the May 24 primary election.

At Courthouse

Horton said he has decided against running for the BOC chair position. He attempted to unseat incumbent BOC Chairman Melvin Davis in 2012.

Davis announced on Feb. 3 that he is retiring, but he has until noon on March 11 to change his mind and file for reelection. Only Daniell has announced his intent to run for the chair position.

Commissioner Jim Luke has announced his plans to retire, opening up Post 1. Commissioner Mark Saxon has indicated he plans to seek reelection to Post 4.

Others who have told me they are interested in running for a Commission post are Sarah Bell, who came within 100 votes of defeating Davis in 2008 and unsuccessfully challenged Luke four years ago, and Mark Thomas, a member of the Oconee County Board of Education.

Terms for the Commission posts are four years. All of the incumbents are Republicans, as are Bell, Horton and Thomas.

Earlier Interpretation

Pat Hayes, chair of the Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration, told me Feb. 3 that she thought she could hold the primary election for Daniell’s post on May 24, the same date as the primary for Posts 1 and 4, even if Daniell waited until March to resign.

That turned out not to be possible because of the requirement that 90 days separate the call of the election from the election itself.

State law specifies that “at least 29 days shall intervene between the call of a special election and the holding of same” but then make an exception for “Special elections which are to be held in conjunction with the presidential preference primary, a state-wide general primary, or state-wide general election.”

In these cases, the 90-day rule applies, according to the state law.

Impact Of 90-Day Rule

The call for a special election cannot be official until it appears in the county’s legal organ, The Oconee Enterprise, which is published on Thursdays.

The Board of Elections and Registration must meet to make a call for a special election. Hayes then has to get legal ad in the paper.

John Daniell 10/27/2015

If a legal advertisement were to appear in the Feb. 18 paper, more than 90 days would intervene between that publication and the May 24 election.

If the legal advertisement were to appear in the Feb. 25 issue of the paper, however, fewer than 90 days would intervene.

That is why Daniell had to resign by the end of the day on Friday for the county to hold a special election on May 24.

Hayes told me that Daniell was aware of the deadline and had discussed the implications of the date of his resignation with her and with County Attorney Daniell Haygood.

Nature Of Special Election

Hayes told me on Friday that Daniell’s decision will save the county money because of the nature of a special election.

The county does not hold a primary for a special election. Instead, all of those who qualify, regardless of party or even without party affiliation, simply are listed on the ballot alphabetically.

State law states: “Candidates in special elections for partisan offices shall be listed alphabetically on the ballot and may choose to designate on the ballot their party affiliation.”

Had the county run the special election on May 24, it would have had to have a separate voting procedure for this office from the procedures used for the party primaries.

The election would have been open to all voters, regardless of party, and voters who had cast a ballot in the primary would have had to vote separately for the essentially nonpartisan special election, Hayes said.

Enabling Legislation

The requirement that the opening be filled by special election is spelled out in the county’s enabling legislation–the series of laws passed by the Georgia Assembly controlling government in the county.

In 1988, the General Assembly passed a law stating that any vacancy on the BOC for “an unexpired term exceeding 180 days” has to be filled by a special election. If the term has 180 or fewer days, the BOC itself can fill the opening by a majority vote.

The person in the special election with the most votes wins, since, in 1925, the General Assembly passed legislation saying that “In all elections of said Commissioners the candidate receiving the highest number of votes for the office sought shall be elected.”

The law does not specify this, but it seems that the person who wins a special election could be sworn in as soon as the election is complete, in this case, on Nov. 9.

Those who win the election on Nov. 8 for Posts 1 and 4 will take office in January of 2017.

Enterprise Report

The Enterprise reported in the Feb. 11 edition that Daniell could be defeated in the May 24 election and then run again to regain his seat in a special election.

Hayes from the Board of Elections and Registration told me on Friday that she does not believe this would be possible, since Daniell would have resigned Post 2, making him ineligible for election to that spot in a special election.

The county’s enabling legislation does not provide much guidance on qualifications of BOC members.

The county’s existing enabling legislation chain goes back to 1917, and the law then stated that a member of the Board of Commissioners of Roads and Revenue had to be male, own land, and be eligible to vote for the General Assembly.

In 1925, the enabling legislation simply said that the members of Board of Commissioners of Roads and Revenue had to be elected “by the qualified voters” of the county.

Other Elections

Oconee County voters on May 24 also will be voting for sheriff, Superior Court clerk, tax commissioner and coroner.

The Enterprise reported in the Feb. 11 edition that Sheriff Scott Berry intends to seek reelection.

I was not able to get Berry to confirm the story, but Chief Deputy Lee Weems did confirm Berry’s intent to seek reelection in an email message on Friday.

At the state level, Oconee County voters will be casting ballots for members of the Georgia House of Representatives and of the Georgia Senate.

At the national level, they will be voting for the local representative to the U.S. House of Representatives and for one of the state’s two U.S. Senate seats.

BOE Elections

Oconee County voters also will be selecting three members of the Board of Education. The terms of Chair Tom Odom, Wayne Bagley and Tim Burgess are up this year.

If Thomas resigns his BOE spot to run for the Board of Commissioners, state law would seem to require a special election for his Post 2 position, since his term does not expire until 2018.

The law says if the vacancy occurs more than 90 days prior to the date of a general election in which the term would be filled, the vacancy should be filled in a special election at the general election.

The BOE can select a member to serve until the election, according to the law.

Republican Primary Action

All of the county’s currently elected officials, including those at the state and federal levels, are Republicans.

Consequently most of the action on May 24 is likely to be in the Republican primary.

A runoff, should one be necessary, would be on July 26.

Candidates also can file to run as Democrats and as independents.

To qualify as an independent, the individual would have to have the signed petitions of 5 percent of the 21,632 persons who were registered to vote in the May 2012 primary, or 1,082 registered voters.

Presidential Primary

Early voting for the presidential primary started at the Board of Elections and Registration Office next door to the Courthouse on Feb. 8 and will continue through Feb. 26.

During the week of Feb. 22 to 26, voting will take place at the Civic Center as well.

Opening times at both locations are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

On Saturday, Feb. 20, the Board of Elections and Registration office will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for early voting.

The election is on March 1.

The Republican ballot will contain the names of 14 active and inactive candidates: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; neurosurgeon Ben Carson; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz; businesswoman Carly Fiorina; South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Ohio Gov. John Kasich; former New York Gov. George Pataki; Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul; Florida Sen. Mark Rubio; former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and businessman Donald Trump.

The Democratic ballot contains four names: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Florida attorney Michael Steinberg.

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