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We're asking a lot of Georgia voters this year.
This year's midterm elections don't involve who is headed to the White House but include just about every other office at the federal, state and local level. Voters are asked to turn out for the July 20 party primaries, perhaps again for a runoff three weeks later, then again for the general election Nov. 4.
And folks in Hall and surrounding counties face another trip or two to the polls, starting with Tuesday's special election to fill open seats in the U.S. House and state Senate. A runoff for those posts, if needed, could follow June 8. (And don't forget the good folks of Flowery Branch, who will vote a fourth time to fill a city council seat in September. Anyone who votes that often deserves a medal).
Tuesday's vote was made necessary by the decision Nathan Deal made in early March to leave his seat in Congress after 18 years to focus on his race for governor.
When Deal stepped down, it opened his seat early to a host of challengers who already were running in the primary. By rule, they had to resign from their current jobs to get on the special ballot, meaning state Sen. Lee Hawkins and Rep. Tom Graves had to step down during the legislative session.
Now folks in Hall and a piece of Jackson counties and in Graves' district will be voting for a new congressman, then someone to replace those two in the statehouse, though the General Assembly session is over.
This bizarre scenario could see one or two candidates emerge from Tuesday's vote, then keep running toward the primary July 20, when voters will select from nearly the same slate of candidates. Whether we'll see a different result is anyone's guess.
It also means that whoever wins Deal's seat will head to Washington and a busy schedule of work rather than campaign here full time for a full term in November. Though incumbency brings a certain advantage, absentia might offset that. That's why Deal says he resigned in the first place; it is a challenge to run for office at home and fulfill duties in D.C. at the same time.
And whoever fills Hawkins' state Senate seat won't have much to do unless a special session is called, unlikely with a lame-duck governor in an election year.
We have to wonder if there is a better and cheaper way to do this; it costs Hall County some $45,000 every time it rolls out the machines. With so little time left in the term, it might be better if the governor chose a temporary seat filler.
Then again, it is hard to argue against letting the people select their own representatives, however screwy the logistics may be. And if being the incumbent offers someone an edge, it is best that such a choice is made by voters, not an officeholder handing a favor to a friend.
We just hope that all these races for the same seats don't confuse and ultimately drive away voters. Voter fatigue may become an issue. For not only do Northeast Georgians have to trudge to the polls often between now and November, they also have to endure the usual trappings of competitive campaigns: negative TV and radio ads, mailboxes full of flyers and a daily onslaught of hype from the media.
And there are some hotly contested races this year. With so many state officers running for governor, only two races — state school superintendent and lieutenant governor — include an incumbent. That means new faces in nearly every constitutional office come January. We'll elect a new governor, and we also have a contested U.S. Senate race along with several tough U.S. House and legislative battles statewide. Locally, contested races for commission and school board posts will be on the ballot in Hall and most area counties.
For years, we've been pleading for some fresh faces in government and a chance for voters to have a real choice. This year, we got our wish. Voters have a wide slate of candidates from both parties to pick from in some races, not the usual ballot full of uncontested incumbents. That means those elected will do so with a mandate from voters and likely be more in tune to the people's needs and desires.
But with this bounty comes responsibility. Voters need to learn all they can about the issues and the candidates in order to choose well. They need to be aware of the requirements for each position and decide who best measures up. They need to filter out nonsensical campaign trivia from the true substance and select candidates who will stand for something, keep their word and conduct themselves with high ethical standards.
It is a handful to take on, but Georgians are up to the task. We have seen the electorate energized in many ways, some motivated by anger, others by a desire to change the tone of politics. Whatever side you're on, this is a positive step. When we take part actively in how our government works and who we send to work it, we make this representative democracy function the way our founders drew it up.
This is a year for true patriots to step forward. Let's all do our part by studying the candidates and issues; we offer full coverage today in print and at gainesvilletimes.com to help. If you haven't already voted, please take time to do so Tuesday and begin letting your current and prospective leaders know where you stand and how much you care.
We'll see you at the polls.