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Opinion: Ready or not, it's time to start paying attention to 2020 election cycle
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Whether we want to do it or not, whether we feel ready or not, whether we’re prepared or not, the inescapable fact is the time has come: We have to start paying close attention to the 2020 election year in Georgia.

So far, we’ve been able to tiptoe around the edges of the coming political cycle, knowing that it was on the horizon but procrastinating in an effort to postpone the inevitable. Now we can postpone no more.

In a week’s time, early voting will begin for the state’s Presidential Preference Primary, ballots that will also include an important special purpose local option sales tax for education and bond vote for local school systems. From there the train will pick up steam, and for the rest of the year, and potentially a week or two of 2021, elections are going to be front of mind for Georgia residents.

For many reasons, it is likely to be an election cycle unlike any other in the state’s recent history.

The Times editorial board

Staff members

  • Norman Baggs, general manager
  • Shannon Casas, editor in chief

Community members

  • Cheryl Brown
  • David George
  • Mandy Harris
  • Brent Hoffman
  • J.C. Smith
  • Tom Vivelo

With all the attention paid to debates among the Democratic presidential candidates and voting already done in a couple of states, it seems we should be well into the nomination process for the party’s presidential candidate. In truth, we’ve just begun, though the picture should be clearer by the end of March after Georgia and other states have completed their primaries.

When Georgians start taking advantage of early voting March 2, they will have a dozen Democrats from whom to choose if they want to cast a ballot for that party’s nominee. Only a single candidate, President Donald Trump, will be on the Republican primary ballot.

Unlike some other states, Georgia voters have the option of choosing in which party’s primary they will cast a vote, and the final tally may well include a number of traditional Republican voters who decide to make their wishes known in the Democratic race.

Early voting will lead up to the actual primary on March 24.

Even as voters and election workers are gearing up for the nomination process, local elections will be starting to gather steam. While many candidates already have declared their intention to seek local and state offices in this year’s elections, their candidacies will not become official until they actually qualify during the first week of March.

The decision by 9th District Rep. Doug Collins to run for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Johnny Isakson and now filled by Kelly Loeffler has had a domino effect on area legislative seats. Some candidates have said they will abandon their current offices to run for Congress, and others are rapidly lining up to run for those offices being vacated. The end result is that there will be several open races with no incumbents in Hall and surrounding counties.

Closer to home, races at the Hall County government level are also drawing a lot of interested contenders. While we won’t know for sure until next month’s qualifying period has ended, several competitive local races seem assured, at least for the May general primary.

But it’s not just the traditional qualifying and balloting that will make this year’s election process memorable. We’ve got new voting machines to deal with statewide elections, more scrutiny of the voter registration process than at any time in recent years, a well-financed proactive effort to draw attention to perceived voter “suppression,” a resurgent Democratic Party hoping to mount its strongest statewide effort in years, and a wide-open U.S. Senate race in November that is not involved in any primary process and likely will result in a runoff in January of 2021.

With multiple elections and subsequent runoffs, and seemingly never-ending political advertising campaigns presented to us on a variety of different platforms, it is going to be difficult not to become election weary before year’s end.

But it is vital that we not. We have to stay engaged in the process to the end, aware of the multitude of races, campaigns and issues.

An old adage often bandied about by those who follow such things is that “voters get the government they deserve.” The best way to make sure you deserve government in line with what you believe is to stay engaged in the process, stay informed on the candidates and issues, and, this year in particular, stay on top of a busy election year so that you know what is happening when.

There are many resources for making sure you know what is going on. Websites maintained by the Secretary of State’s office and the Hall County government include lots of information about the nuts and bolts of the election process. This newspaper and other media will provide ample election-related information throughout the year, but to be informed you have to actively engage in the learning process.

If you want to have a say in how you are governed, from the local level to the presidency, make sure you are properly registered to vote, and then do so. The deadline to register to vote in the Presidential Preference Primary is Monday. 

But a vote cast in ignorance can be more damaging than a vote that isn’t cast at all. Be informed. Learn about the candidates and the issues. This year’s  elections will probably see record spending on political advertising. Voters should not be swayed by the number of ads seen or heard, but by investigating the candidates’ positions on the important issues regardless of their party affiliation.  

Do your homework; don’t depend on what you are told by others. Be smart when it comes to participating in the process upon which the foundation of our country is built.

We encourage all of those who plan to participate in the election process to start studying now. It’s going to be a long and stressful political year.