Mon., September 2, 2013 5:00am (EDT)

Should Candidates Fund Special Elections?
By Claire Simms
Updated: 11 months ago

ATLANTA  —  
State Senator Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, is considering drafting legislation that would require members of the General Assembly to pay for special elections if they resign to run for higher office. (Photo by Ellen Reinhardt)
State Senator Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, is considering drafting legislation that would require members of the General Assembly to pay for special elections if they resign to run for higher office. (Photo by Ellen Reinhardt)
Governor Nathan Deal’s economic development trip to China just ended and he already has more business that needs his attention.

Deal must issue a writ ordering a special election because two state lawmakers have decided to step down to pursue higher office.

Senator Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, and Representative Donna Sheldon, R-Dacula, are both running for seats in Congress. Their decisions are part of the ongoing political domino effect created when longtime Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss announced he would not seek another term.

Loudermilk is looking to replace U.S. Representative Phil Gingrey in Georgia’s 11th Congressional District. Sheldon is running for the 10th Congressional District seat held by Representative Paul Broun. Both Broun and Gingrey are running for Senate.

State Senator Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, said he agrees with Loudermilk and Sheldon’s decisions to step down from the state legislature.

“What Representative Sheldon and Senator Loudermilk have done is basically recognize the reality that it’s difficult to serve two masters: to be running for a seat in the United States Congress while at the same time trying to fulfill their duties in the state House and state Senate,” stressed McKoon.

Sen. McKoon said he will continue to pursue legislation he proposed earlier this year that would require state lawmakers to resign after filing for federal office.

“Existing Georgia ethics law, before we passed the bill this year, prohibited members of the General Assembly from raising money during the session, but that prohibition only extends to state level offices,” said McKoon. “So to give you an example, Representative [Ed] Lindsey, who appears to be staying in his state house seat: when we begin our session, he will not be prohibited from raising funds for his Congressional campaign even though he is prohibited from raising funds for his state house campaign.”

McKoon said he has also been considering an addition to the bill that would require candidates who resign to foot part of the bill for the special election to replace them.

“I believe strongly that when someone creates that situation to the extent it’s possible we ought to have a mechanism in place to require that person to shoulder some of the burden that’s created on the taxpayer,” McKoon explained.

The costs of those special elections add up.

Jane Scoggins, Superintendent of Elections in Coweta County, estimated a special election in February of this year cost the county about $22,000. Voters had to choose who would fill the vacant District 71 seat, which includes 11 of Coweta County’s 28 precincts. That special election had to go to a runoff in March, which cost the county about the same amount of money. On average, Scoggins said, a regular special election has a price tag of about $60,000.

Cherokee County taxpayers also had to pay for a special election earlier this year. Supervisor of Elections and Registration, Janet Munda, said it cost around $21,000.

“Those things do get expensive,” explained Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

Kemp said special elections incur such high expenses because counties must not only schedule an extra election day, but also early voting days as well.

The resignations of Loudermilk and Sheldon, however, may help elections supervisors avoid extra costs.

“The special election for those two seats, one in the Senate one in the House of Representatives, could actually fall on the November election date where you’re going to have a lot of municipal races going on, which is great for us and for the counties because with other races already on the ballot, there’s really no additional cost to the taxpayers,” said Kemp.

The final election date decision lies with Governor Deal, though Kemp said his office works closely with the Governor on when best to schedule special elections.

“Logically I would think we can assume it’s going to be Tuesday, November the fifth,” Kemp reasoned.