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Special election costly to counties

Vote to replace Deal, Hawkins, others puts strain on already-strapped budgets

POSTED: March 28, 2010 12:30 a.m.

The cost estimate for nearly 394,000 voters to take part in a special election in Georgia’s 9th Congressional district could be as much as $240,000.

In an already-tight budget year for most local governments in the state, the 15 counties of north central and northwest Georgia are bracing their bank accounts for an election to fill former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal’s seat in Congress.

Deal resigned last week after he cast his final vote against a Democratic-led health care plan in Congress. After 18 years in the U.S. House, Deal left nine months early to focus on a campaign for Georgia governor.

A special election will be held in each of the district’s 15 counties on May 11 to choose a candidate who would complete the remaining months of Deal’s term in Washington.

Before he resigned, more than 10 candidates — most of them Republicans — had already signed the rolls to vie for Deal’s seat in the July 20 party primary.

With his early departure, most have said they hope to be the incumbent candidate in time for the primary.

The expense of a special election has been bemoaned so that State Rep. Bobby Reese, R-Sugar Hill, has said he won’t take part in the special election for Deal’s seat.

Reese would need to resign from his position in the General Assembly to qualify for the 9th District special election. His resignation would require another special election in his current House district.

While at first he said he was not sure, Reese later said he did not want his Gwinnett County constituents, who live just outside the reach of the 9th District, to have to foot the bill for a special election.

“Whoever wins (in the special election) will have an (I) by their name, but if my message gets out, hopefully, I’ll win (in July),” Reese said.

Two other Republican state lawmakers seeking Deal’s old congressional seat — Sen. Lee Hawkins of Gainesville and Rep. Tom Graves of Ranger — resigned from their positions Tuesday, leaving early enough for the governor to set the date of the elections to fill their seats on the same date that county officials from their former districts would be holding the special election for Deal’s seat.

Both said they were leaving early to save their districts money. Though Hawkins said he wanted to stay to work on some of his own legislation, he said causing Hall County to foot the bill for a second special election, “is not wise, especially in these economic times.”

But even with the ability to consolidate those elections, the number of possible candidates in the 9th District election makes another, just as expensive runoff election likely. Officials from across the district say it’s sure to be an expensive election season.

Barbara Luth, supervisor of voter registrations and elections in Forsyth County, said she might be pulling employees from the county’s other departments to work the polls May 11.

While those employees will still need elections training, pulling a Forsyth County employee from the street department or the parks department instead of hiring poll workers to run 28 precincts could mean the difference between a $40,000 election and a $50,000 election, Luth said.

“We had been looking at that for the July primary as well,” said Luth. “... Looking at the divisions to see who they can spare for the days and where we can use them.”

In Hall County where there are in excess of 86,200 registered voters — about 20,000 fewer than Forsyth — Charlotte Sosebee, the county’s interim elections supervisor says it will cost about $45,000 to open the county’s 39 precincts.

Sosebee has said in the past that a special election would require her to ask the Hall County Board of Commissioners for more money this fiscal year to fund elections.

Election costs are highest in Forsyth and Hall counties. Election officials from other counties in the district say they will be paying anywhere from $8,000 to $20,000 to open the polls and count the votes in the May 11 election, whether registered voters show up or not.

In Catoosa County, the cost is about $1,000 for each of the 12 voting precincts, according to elections official Donna Bomar.

“The cost’s the same no matter if one votes or if 50,000 votes,” said Bomar.



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