OPINION: 2023 is an election year, too. Here are the races to watch.

A poll worker holds a Georgia voter sticker ready to be handed to a voter on Oct. 17, 2022. (Miguel Martinez/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

A poll worker holds a Georgia voter sticker ready to be handed to a voter on Oct. 17, 2022. (Miguel Martinez/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The House speaker drama in Washington may be getting the headlines, but voters in Georgia are already going to the polls for elections happening here on Nov. 7.

Yes, this November. Even the biggest politicos among us can get tripped up by off-year elections like the ones happening now. But make no mistake that local races can have a bigger impact on your day-to-day life than a House speaker race ever will. That’s why I always encourage people to, “Think globally, vote locally.”

Up for grabs in November are hundreds of municipal races across the state, including mayors, city councils, countywide posts, and school boards. Not on the ballot this year are the presidential, statewide, congressional, and legislative contests, which will happen in 2024 and 2026. Also not up are Atlanta’s major citywide offices like mayor and city council, which were decided two years ago.

With so many races happening now, I reached out to politicos, readers, and reporters around the state to see which ones are popping to the top of their radars. Here are the ones to watch in your neck of the woods:

  • Atlanta Board of Education. As the AJC’s Martha Dalton has reported, the Atlanta school board will now have elections every two years, with odd-numbered districts up in 2023, even-numbered districts on the ballot in 2025, and then alternating after that. Nine candidates have qualified for the five seats up in November, with the biggest issue at hand being the choice of a permanent superintendent to follow interim superintendent, Dr. Danielle S. Battle.
  • Brookhaven Mayor. The highly anticipated race to replace term-limited Mayor John Ernst features four candidates — John Park, a former member of the Brookhaven City Council, Lauren Kiefer, the former head of the local arts commission, newcomer Hilerie Lind, and former car dealer Mark Frost. The fast-growing city right outside the Atlanta city limits just broke ground on a $78 million city hall and city center, which some leaders call “a monument to our community,” but detractors call the “Taj Mahal of city halls.” Issues of growth, financing, and public safety will await the new mayor.
  • Milton City Council. Milton is just one of several cities in the north Atlanta suburbs with elections this year, including Roswell, Alpharetta, and Johns Creek. But it’s the only one managing its own elections for the first time instead of Fulton County. Milton also has a few city council races that sound more like reality shows, complete with allegations of ethics lapses and a new Milton-focused PAC designed to unseat the incumbents at the center of those dramas, Paul Moore and Rick Mohrig.
  • Savannah Mayor. Chatham County on Georgia’s coast is hosting several closely-watched contests this year, including in Savannah where incumbent mayor Van Johnson is running for reelection. Johnson knows sitting mayors can be vulnerable since he beat then-Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach in a 2019 runoff to win the city’s top job. If Johnson gets past his two challengers this year, Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter and Tyrisha Davis, Johnson could have his eye on a statewide run down the line.
  • Pooler, Tybee Island and beyond. Staying on the coast, the AJC’s Savannah bureau chief Adam Van Brimmer flags two more mayor’s races to keep an eye on in the region. The Pooler contest, along with city council races, will focus heavily on the explosive growth in the once-sleepy area now that the Georgia Ports and incoming Hyundai megaplant have guaranteed more people, development, and likely growing pains. And on Tybee Island, the city could elect its first Black mayor to oversee the same beaches that once banned Black residents from swimming along the treasured coast.

One relatively new group getting involved is Kelly Loeffler’s Greater Georgia. Although they’re not endorsing candidates. they are texting to turn out voters in the races they’ve identified as the most competitive. Along with Brookhaven and Savannah, the list includes Johns Creek, Roswell, Chamblee, Peachtree Corners, Jonesboro, Tyrone and Fayetteville.

Issues will be on the ballot along with local offices. DeKalb and other counties will vote on SPLOSTs, meaning voters will be asked to approve a special purpose local option sales tax question on the ballot for local improvements.

And in Warner Robins, along with a city council seat, voters will decide the all important question of whether or not to allow alcohol to be served at Sunday brunch.

One city that won’t be voting at all is Gainesville, where so few candidates filed to run for the upcoming city council and school board races that the election was officially canceled since the races were already decided.

Gainesville Mayor Sam Couvillon, who was reelected in 2022, said the lack of candidates is distressing. “If you follow social media, people always like to hate the mayor and council members and say, ‘We need to vote them out.’ And then when we had an option for three people to be opposed, nobody ran against them.”

Couvillion said he always encourages people to run for office. “I say there’s no shame in losing, there’s only shame in not putting yourself out there.”

State Rep. Teri Anulewitcz, D-Smyrna, said she noticed multiple local offices in Cobb County go unchallenged as well, including in Smyrna. “I do worry that it’s a harbinger of just a general sense of disengagement in the electoral process,” she said.

You can check your polling location and voter registration status on your MyVoter page at the Secretary of State’s office, and come back to AJC.com, where we’ll have more information about individual candidates closer to the election.

Until then, remember that your mayor, city council, and other local leaders will be making crucial decisions for your family and your community, whether we ever have a Speaker of the House in America again or not.