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Idea to end off-year elections gets thumbs up in Hall
Report: Change would save money, boost turnout, end confusion
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What if you voted for everything — your county commissioner, your city council members and your representatives in state government — on the same day?

If lawmakers take the advice of the Secretary of State's office, it might be reality.

Currently, general municipal elections are held in odd-numbered years. But a report released by the Secretary of State's office Monday questions whether city elections should be moved to the ballots on even-numbered years along with other county and state elections.

The report, created by an advisory council appointed by Secretary of State Brian Kemp, states that moving the elections could "greatly reduce the cost of running elections throughout the state."

It also suggests that more people might show up to those elections if the years were changed.

In Gainesville, the often unopposed City Council races and Board of Education elections rarely bring out more than 10 percent of the registered voters, according to numbers provided by the Hall County Elections Office.

In 2011, when longtime Councilman Bob Hamrick faced a challenger and the ballot included a question on Sunday alcohol sales, 14 percent of the city's electorate showed up. A contested race in 2003 also brought out a little more than 24 percent of registered voters.

Other city elections between 2003 and 2011 earned the interest of an average of 5 percent of registered city voters.

Oakwood's City Manager Stan Brown is on board with the idea, saying it increases the likelihood of higher turnout in city elections and seems more efficient.

During election years, Oakwood budgets about $3,500 to spend on the printing of ballots and other election supplies, Brown said.

He recalls last November's municipal election in Oakwood in which city voters decided to buy alcohol on Sundays.

At the same time, the city's voters were making a decision, at a separate county polling location, on a new state representative. He called it "a disaster" that confused voters.

Hall County Director of Elections Charlotte Sosebee said moving those elections to the same ballot with the county might cut down on the confusion.

Sosebee was one of the elections officials who served on the secretary of state's Elections Advisory Council. She said she supported the idea of moving municipal elections to even-numbered years at council meetings.

"I think it would be a great idea for the voters," Sosebee said. "It cuts down on the confusion of when they're supposed to vote. All the elections would be at the same time; you would elect your county and city officials at the same time and you wouldn't have two different voting locations."

Sosebee's argument is simple: The Elections Office is built to handle elections. Already, the office handles voter registration for city elections, she said.

"We're trained to handle elections, and that's what we do," she said. "Whereas a city clerk and their staff, they have so many other different jobs that come under their umbrellas."

The report released by the secretary of state's office doesn't claim the idea is fault-free. It suggests that municipal choices, if moved to even-numbered year elections, could get drowned out by bigger issues on the ballot.

Brown said Tuesday that his only concern with the Elections Advisory Council's proposal would be how it would affect current city charters, which set the rules for city elections and terms for council members.

But Brown said even that concern wouldn't be "a major issue for us."

"The concept makes a lot of sense," said Brown. "If there's a way to do things more efficiently and get higher voter turnout, I would think those would be positive outcomes."

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