No Primaries for Georgia Special Elections in 2020

(CN) – A proposal to amend Georgia election law to force party primary contests before special elections will not take effect this year, meaning a newly appointed U.S. senator won’t have to defend her seat from early challenges by fellow Republicans.

The House Governmental Affairs Committee voted 9-6 on Tuesday to approve a newer version of House Bill 757, delaying the implementation of a proposed change to the state’s election process until 2021. The bill is expected to move to a full House vote soon.

Mary Brock, right, and Kelly Loeffler cheer from their court-side seats as the Atlanta Dream basketball team plays in a Sept. 6, 2011, WNBA basketball game. (AP Photo/David Tulis, File)

The delay likely comes as a relief to U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler, who will defend her seat in an open election on Nov. 3. Loeffler, a wealthy businesswoman and longtime conservative donor, was appointed in December by Republican Governor Brian Kemp after three-term GOP Senator Johnny Isakson announced his retirement last year.

Since the measure will not impact this election cycle, all Democratic and Republican candidates will appear on the same ballot in November, creating what some refer to as a free-for-all election.

HB 757 originally passed a committee hurdle last month and could have taken effect this year, but Governor Kemp threatened to veto it on the basis that it would change the rules in the middle of a campaign season that was well underway.

The bill calls for party primaries in special elections to be held in May of the election year. After the top Republican and Democratic candidates are chosen, they would face off in November.

Congressman Doug Collins, an ally of President Donald Trump who holds a top Republican seat on the House Judiciary Committee, is one of Loeffler’s opponents in the Nov. 3 free-for-all election.

A May primary could have helped bolster Collins, because it would have cut short the amount of time Loeffler held her seat before constituents cast their first vote in the race.

Collins represents Georgia’s 9th Congressional District, which encompasses a section in the northern part of the state that overwhelmingly supported President Trump in the 2016 election. Collins defeated his Democratic rival, Josh McCall, 79% to 20% to win reelection in 2018. He has held the seat since 2012.

Isakson, the former senator, retired from the post at the end of last year, citing health concerns. Whoever wins the special election will serve out the rest of Isakson’s term until 2022.

State Representative Shaw Blackmon, the Republican chair of Georgia’s House Governmental Affairs Committee, told the Associated Press that the new effective date of Jan. 1, 2021, for HB 757 was added at the request of House members and that the special Senate race was taken into consideration.

In addition to the special election, Georgia is also holding a regular election for its other U.S. Senate seat. Republican incumbent David Perdue is defending the seat he has held since 2014 in that contest.

The Peach State’s entrenched Republican voting trend has been increasingly challenged in recent elections, especially during the 2018 gubernatorial race, which saw a greater percentage of minorities, women and young voters show up to the polls in favor of Democrat Stacey Abrams.

Abrams lost the controversial race to Kemp, who was Georgia’s secretary of state in charge of elections, but that contest showed the state’s partisan margins are beginning to tighten.

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