Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 18, 2020


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 18, 2020

George Washington departed Waynesboro, Georgia on May 18, 1791, headed to Augusta. On May 19-20, 1791, George Washington spent his second and third days in Augusta, where he visited Richmond Academy. Washington left Georgia on May 21, 1791 to go to Columbia, South Carolina.

Abraham Lincoln was nominated for President by the Republican National Convention on May 18, 1860.

The United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in Plessy v. Ferguson on May 18, 1896.

The U.S. Supreme Court rule[d] seven to one that a Louisiana law providing for “equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races” on its railroad cars is constitutional. The high court held that as long as equal accommodations were provided, segregation was not discrimination and thus did not deprive African Americans of equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Click here to log in to the Secretary of State’s My Voter Page for up-to-date information on where and when you can vote in person and to check the status of your Absentee Ballot if you applied for one.

In-person Advance Voting begins today. From the Athens Banner Herald:

Early voting begins Monday, May 18 in party primaries and local non-partisan elections for the Athens-Clarke County Commission and the Clarke County Board of Education. Election Day is June 9.

For the first two weeks, advance voting will be available only at the Clarke County Board of Elections office at 155 E. Washington St. in downtown Athens, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Beginning June 1 and continuing through June 5, when advance voting ends, voters can also cast ballots at three other sites: the Athens Regional Library at 2025 Baxter St., the Miriam Moore Community Center at 410 McKinley Drive and the Athens-Clarke County Cooperative Extension office, 275 Cleveland Road, all from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. except on June 3, when all four advance voting sites will be open until 7 p.m.

In addition, voters can cast ballots at the Board of Elections office on May 30 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and May 31 from noon to 3 p.m.

From the Gainesville Times:

The polls will look a little different when early voting for the June 9 primary begins Monday, May 18, with some extra precautions and a new location to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Early voting has been moved from the Hall County Government Center to Gainesville Exploration Academy on McEver Road. Voting will be held there 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, beginning May 18. During the third and final week of early voting, June 1-5, voters can go to the North Hall Community Center, the East Hall Community Center and Spout Springs Library, in addition to Gainesville Exploration Academy. Voters can also cast their ballots from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, May 30, at those locations.

Elections Director Lori Wurtz said people at polling places will be required to practice social distancing by staying six feet apart. Sneeze shields will be installed at the “poll pads,” where voters check in with a poll worker on an electronic tablet. Hand sanitizer will be available at the entrances and exits of the polling places. Poll workers will sanitize equipment between every voter.

Wurtz said poll workers will be wearing masks, and they can choose to bring their own or have one provided. The same rules and safety precautions will apply to all polling places, she said.

Voters are encouraged but not required to wear masks, Wurtz said.

From AccessWDUN:

Almost half of Hall County’s 125,000 registered voters have applied for an absentee ballot, which could affect crowds at polling places, both during early voting and on election day.

From the Statesboro Herald:

Voting while social distancing starts Monday, with the first day of in-person early voting for Georgia’s primary on June 9.

Bulloch County Elections Supervisor Pat Lanier Jones said voting will be available in the County Annex building only, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, until Friday, June 5. Saturday voting will be available on May 30 only from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“In trying to keep our voters, poll workers, and election staff safe, we are encouraging everyone to vote by mail,” Jones said. “With the social distancing and the limited number of voting equipment due to spacing, voters may be waiting. This new voting equipment only shows one office at a time per page and not multiple offices like the old (voting machines) did.”

Jones said voters will stand at least 6 feet apart, and she encourages all to wear masks and gloves, but they are not required. She said only three voting machines will be open due to the social distancing requirements, and that may add to the waiting time.

In Bulloch County, Jones said her office had received 9,254 requests as of Friday from registered Bulloch voters for mail-in ballots to participate in the June 9 primary. She said that 2,764 filled-in ballots have been returned and entered as received. Jones said June 5 is the last day a requested absentee ballot can be mailed to a voter.

The Ledger-Enquirer looks at voting by mail.

So far two elections the epidemic postponed from March 24 and May 19 remain set for June 9, with early, in-person voting to begin Monday at Columbus’ City Services Center off Macon Road.

Thousands of Muscogee County residents won’t be voting in person, because they’ve decided to mail their ballots in.

As of Thursday the elections office had distributed about 18,000 mail-in absentee ballots, and sending more out at a rate of around 1,000 a day, said Nancy Boren, executive director of the Muscogee County Board of Elections and Registrations. The county has 124,068 active, registered voters, she said.

Boren said this marks the most mail-in ballots her office has sent out since the November 2008 presidential election, when 8,000 went out.

There’s some additional information that’s specific to local races in Muscogee County and would be helpful for local voters.

From the AJC:

More than 1.3 million voters have requested absentee ballots during the coronavirus pandemic, but state law requires three weeks of in-person early voting before the June 9 election.

Fewer early voting locations will be available, but several will remain open: five in Cobb County, eight in DeKalb County, five in Fulton County and six in Gwinnett County.

Each polling place in Georgia will have hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies.

Poll workers in some counties will ask voters to wait in their cars for a text telling them it’s their turn to vote. Officials will wear gloves, and they’ll frequently wipe down touchscreens. Voting booths will be spread out.

So far, more than 212,000 voters have returned absentee ballots for the combined general primary and presidential primary. By comparison, about 37,000 people cast absentee-by-mail ballots in the 2016 primary.

Bond referendum elections face a far different climate as voting opens than when first proposed. From the Gainesville Times:

A special election on the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax and bond referendums to fund capital projects for schools was originally scheduled for March 24 and is now set for June 9.

“I think it would be pretty pollyannaish to say that what we’ve seen in the last three months is positive,” Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said. “We’ve seen a primary election delayed twice. We’ve experienced a worldwide pandemic, and now we’re in the midst of one of the greatest downturns in the shortest amount of time we’ve seen in this country since the Great Depression.”

Both Schofield and Gainesville Superintendent Jeremy Williams say the vote, for which early voting begins May 18, will have drastic impacts on area schools.

The E-SPLOST gives a penny for every dollar spent to fund capital projects for the Hall, Gainesville and Buford school systems. Residents will also vote on a bond referendum that would grant Hall County and Gainesville schools $258 million and $83 million in bonds respectively to be paid off over the next 20 years.

And while Schofield and Williams are both confident that economic downturn will not prevent schools from carrying out all planned projects so long as the E-SPLOST and bond referendum are both passed, voter opinion on the issue is more of a mystery.

If either the E-SPLOST or bond referendum votes were to fail, both systems would be put in tight spots moving forward.

The AJC looks at what might be ahead for local governments facing lower revenues and higher expenses due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Revenue from sales taxes, hotel stays and business licenses and taxes are down across the metro region, officials said. As soon as the coronavirus-related shutdown began in March, officials predicted that SPLOST revenue, which is funded by sales taxes and pays for road and sidewalk projects, would take a big hit. But it has become apparent that the drops in revenue will affect much more than that.

Chamblee, a city of about 30,000, predicts it will lose about $3 million — more than 10% of its general fund — due to the pandemic, according to new budget proposals. Dunwoody, which has over 50,000 people, estimates it could see up to a 30% reduction in its general fund revenues, possibly losing out on as much as $7.7 million, Assistant City Manager Jay Vinicki said.

Decatur has already announced it is temporarily laying off 20 part-time staff members who usually work year-round, the city said in a statement.

Legislation in the resumed Georgia General Assembly is likely to be severely limited. From The Brunswick News:

“I’m sure there’s going to be some negotiating between the House and the Senate over which bills receive a hearing and which get voted on,” said state Sen. William Ligon, R-White Oak.

Both the state House and Senate are planning to conclude the last 10 days of the current legislative session on June 11, Ligon said, which doesn’t leave much time to pursue new legislation.

“It just depends on how we’re able to manage the rest of the session,” Ligon said. “With distancing and the reduced level of support staff, what can we, physically and from a time standpoint, handle?”

State leaders are mulling asking businesses to file their May sales taxes documentation within the first few days of June, weeks earlier than normally required, Jones said.

Doing so would give the state a better idea of how to plan the budget for the next year.

“I’m suggesting an executive order to make that happen,” Jones said. “We want to have revenue numbers through May, hoping that May will show an upward trend in the hopes we don’t have to reduce (the budget) by 14 percent. Even if we could trim that to 13 percent or 12 percent, that could be huge.”

USA Today looks at Clay County, Georgia as it struggles with COVID-19 without a hospital, via the Savannah Morning News.

At Dr. Karen Kinsell’s southwest Georgia practice, patients showing coronavirus symptoms have infiltrated an appointment schedule usually crowded with bladder infections and sinus trouble.

An outbreak following a March funeral service in Albany, Georgia, two counties away, brought COVID-19 to Kinsell’s community of about 3,000, situated a stone’s throw from Alabama.

Clay County has seen the number of local COVID-19 infections climb. The community has 28 cases, three virus-induced deaths, one ambulance and — like 20% of counties nationwide with at least one coronavirus case — no local hospital.

Rural communities like this, experts say, might be on the brink of disaster.

For residents in those communities, including those in the highest risk categories for COVID-19 — poor, elderly and suffering from underlying health conditions — a spate of recent hospital closures means the nearest emergency room is sometimes hours away and plagued by staff shortages and financial deficits.

Clay County’s only hospital closed in the 1980s. It lost its last pharmacy in 2018. Kinsell is the lone physician.

She refers those with coronavirus indicators to hospitals an hour drive away. Several have declined emergency care, fearing a bill they can’t afford.

“We’ve had quite a few people who just toughed it out at home,” Kinsell said, referring to those who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to cover the cost of private health insurance. “If you have some money, have some assets, those are the people that have to make a decision about whether to go to the hospital because they could lose their house over it.”

Since 2010, Georgia has lost six hospitals and more than 210 hospital beds.

Former State Representative (and House Speaker) Mark Burkhalter has been appointed Ambassador to Norway, according to the AJC.

In a news release, the White House announced Friday that Trump will nominate Mark Burkhalter to the position. The 59-year-old Johns Creek Republican spent 18 years in the General Assembly, representing his North Fulton constituents from 1993 to 2011.

He briefly served as House speaker in 2010, spending 11 days in the position after Glenn Richardson resigned.

Burkhalter, who was speaker pro tem but didn’t seek the speaker post, held the job until the first day of the legislative session, when current Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, was elected to the role by his colleagues.

In order to become ambassador, Burkhalter would first need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Savannah has opened applications for sidewalk dining to help restaurants recover from the COVID-19 shutdown, according to the Savannah Morning News.

As part of the city’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the sidewalk-dining proposal was first introduced in conjunction with a business-promoting “Resilient Savannah” initiative announced by Mayor Van Johnson during his weekly coronavirus press update on Tuesday, May 12. Members of Savannah’s City Council were generally supportive when reviewing the proposal during their workshop meeting on Thursday, May 14.

The pilot program allows restaurants to temporarily utilize adjacent sidewalk space and parking spots to provide additional alfresco-dining areas that comply with social-distancing standards. Restaurants must meet several requirements to participate in the program.

Applications for the program are being collected by Savannah’s Office of Special Events, Film and Tourism. The pilot program continues until June 15, at which point city staff will reassess its progress.

Restaurants face closure due to losses from the COVID-19 shutdown and ensuing social distancing requirements, according to the Albany Herald.

The US state of Georgia allowed restaurants to reopen on April 27. The three owned by Ryan Pernice are still shuttered.

The entrepreneur hasn’t opened his restaurants, Table & Main, Osteria Mattone and Coalition Food & Beverage, since March 16. Pernice is worried about the health of his employees and customers, but there’s another reason the restaurants are still shut down: They can’t make a profit with social distancing rules in place.

“If you talk to restaurants across the globe, the language might change, but the math is the same,” Pernice told CNN Business. “Restaurants and bars need volume and traffic to make them work.”

“There will be no profits for us while we are social distancing,” said Blaiss Nowak, another Georgia restaurateur who chose to reopen when restrictions were lifted last month. “There are a great amount of restaurants that I’ve heard will never open again.”

Nowak has reduced the number of customers in his restaurant from 200 a night to just 50, with tables spread 12 feet apart. The main dining area, which used to accommodate 60 people at a time, is now limited to 24. He hopes that by opening now, his employees will be trained to deal with social distancing when customers feel more safe returning to eat.

Gwinnett County local government offices will begin reopening today, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The Gwinnett County Tax Commissioner’s Office and Sugar Hill government officials announced their respective offices will reopen Monday. Sugar Hill also plans to reopen its E-Center gym, albeit on an amended schedule, on Monday.

Both the Tax Commissioner’s Office and the city of Sugar Hill will be instituting a number of steps designed to limit the chances that COVID-19 will be spread in their offices.

“Our first priority is the safety of customers and associates,” Gwinnett Tax Commissioner Richard Steele said as his office announced its plans Thursday. “The safest option is for people to skip the trip entirely and just renew online or at a kiosk. Next is to skip the line by using our drop box service. For those whose business requires an in-person visit, such as new residents, we’ve made the process as safe as possible.”

Although offices will be reopening, they will not yet be back at full regular operations as government leaders ease back into more traditional ways of doing business.

Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap said the grand jury system could change due to backlog built up during the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The chief prosecutor said she is eyeing potential changes in the state law governing grand jury panels and doubling Chatham County grand juries into two separate panels meeting simultaneously to capture pending cases.

Since the six local judges halted all non-essential judicial operations on March 13 in the face of social distancing imposed due to the coronavirus outbreak, both jury trial and grand jury sessions have been suspended.

Heap said her prosecutors and staff have continued in the interim to process cases for grand jury presentation, now numbering in the neighborhood of more than 700.

“It’s about to bust open,” Heap said.

Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul faces a contested primary for a fourth term, but no Republican opponent, according to the Albany Herald.

The Athens Banner Herald looks at local races on the Athens-Clarke County ballot and those on the Oconee County ballot.

Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis has extended the moratorium on cutting off residential water, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Davis said the moratorium would be extended until June 12. The moratorium is meant to aid residents who have been unable to pay their water bills and those whose bills are in dispute.

The suspension of water cutoffs was initially scheduled to last 60 days and was part of Augusta’s state of emergency announced March 16.

“Currently there are 480 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Augusta with 17 deaths,” Davis said. “Whether you’re experiencing symptoms or not, and have possibly come in contact with a person infected by COVID-19, please schedule a test.”

The Georgia Environmental Finance Authority will loan $1.25 million dollars to the City of Sylvester for water system upgrades, according to the Albany Herald.

Savannah is searching for a new city manager, according to the Savannah Morning News.

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