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Voters, brace for busy election year in 2012
Presidential primary, Sunday alcohol and road sales tax votes among ballot options
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Each day this week, The Times will preview coming changes in a top issue in Northeast Georgia. Today, a look at 2012 elections.

2012 election dates

Presidential preference primary and special election
Election date: March 6
Special election runoff: April 3
Voter registration deadline: Feb. 6

General primary, nonpartisan and special election
Election date: July 31
Runoff: Aug. 21
Voter registration deadline: July 2

Presidential and general elections
Election date: Nov. 6
General election runoff: Dec. 4
Voter registration deadline: Oct. 8


Political junkies can prepare for a multicourse feast in 2012 with upcoming elections that will feature the flavors of national politics and big servings of state and local elections, too.

In addition to the well-publicized presidential primaries and elections, voters will also weigh in on state and national congressional seats and, more locally, several county commissioner seats.

Elections will be held March 6 for the presidential primary, July 31 for general primaries and Nov. 6 for general and presidential elections.

Some of the big decisions for voters this year will include the open U.S. House of Representatives seat that will represent Northeast Georgia, Sunday alcohol sales for unincorporated Hall County, election of members of the Hall County Board of Commissioners and the decision on the regional local option sales tax for transportation.

Political scientists expect the presidential race to play some part in the outcome of local elections, though what kind of outcome is still too soon to tell.

The biggest effect that presidential elections have on local races is their tendencies to turn out more voters, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.

In 2008, Hall County's November election saw voter turnout near 75 percent, nearly double turnout for other local elections, said Charlotte Sosebee, Hall County's director of elections.

With bigger turnout, Bullock said, presidential elections draw more voters who don't usually pay close attention to state and local politics.

When looking for cues on who to vote for in November, Bullock said, those voters tend to fall back on their party allegiances.

Douglas Young, a political science professor at Gainesville State University, said that phenomenon should help Republicans maintain control in state and local elections.

"From everything that I'm hearing right now, Republican voters are much more enthusiastic," said Young, even though the party is without a presidential nominee at this point.

Hall County's decision to pair its vote on Sunday alcohol sales with the presidential preference primary on March 6 could create results worth paying attention to, said Bullock.

It's possible that the Sunday sales referendum could turn out more of the county's Democratic-leaning voters who would have otherwise stayed home since there is no Democratic opposition candidate to the president.

These voters could then decide to also vote on the Republican presidential primary too, Bullock said.

That could either lead to more votes for the more left-leaning candidates, he said, or, for a weaker candidate.

"That's always a fear for (political) parties," he said, "that spoilers (from the opposing party) will come out to vote on the weak candidate."

Bullock said there isn't much evidence that partisan voters cast ballots for the opposing parties' spoilers.

Even with more voters coming out in November, presidential politics could play less of a role in the general primaries in July.

Since in Georgia, the presidential primary in March will be separate from the general primary, fewer voters are expected to turn out, Bullock said.

The kind of voters who do vote in nonpresidential primaries, he said, will be the political party faithful.

That's something to watch in 2012, he said.

"The tea party didn't play much of a role in Georgia in 2010," Bullock said.

However, there could be an effort next year for that movement to take aim on Republican incumbents who they feel are maintaining "Republican ideals," he said.

With Hall County typically leaning toward Republican candidates and Democrats rarely a factor, Young said many key local races could be wrapped up with the local primaries, before the influx of presidential voters marks their ballots in November.

One of the biggest races during that primary will be the open seat in the 9th District, which includes all or part of 20 Northeast Georgia counties, including Hall. Doug Collins, Martha Zoller, Hunter Bicknell and Clifton McDuffie have announced intentions to seek the seat.

Voters in July will also be choosing party nominees for three seats on the Hall County Board of Commissioners.

So far, the matchups for Hall County Board of Commissioners races are still unclear. The board's chairman position, currently held by Tom Oliver, and Seats 2 and 4 - held by Billy Powell and Ashley Bell - will be up for elections.

Also in July, voters statewide are expected to decide whether to pay another penny per dollar on road work. The regional special purpose local option sales tax for transportation, T-SPLOST, will be decided by districts throughout Georgia.

Hall falls in the 13-county Georgia Mountains district, with Hall and Forsyth counties the major players. Together, they would get about $600 million of the $945 million that falls in the region.

If it's approved, Hall County's sales tax rate would increase to 8 percent from 7.

Bullock said that general primary voter demographics will play a big role in that decision.

If primary voters trend toward the kind of strong Republican voters who oppose any tax increases, the proposal could see significant challenges.

Regional events