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What happens to John Lewis’ seat in Congress after his death

U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) speaks during a rally for gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams at Morehouse College in Macon, Georgia, on November 2, 2018. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)
U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) speaks during a rally for gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams at Morehouse College in Macon, Georgia, on November 2, 2018. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Facing a tight legal deadline, Georgia Democrats are seeking online applications to succeed the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis.

The state party said Saturday that potential contenders must complete an application by Sunday evening to be considered for the Atlanta-based seat held since 1987 by the civil rights hero.

That’s because state law gives the Democratic Party of Georgia until 4:30 p.m. on Monday to decide whether to replace Lewis’ name on the November ballot for a full two-year term. Sachin Varghese, the party’s general counsel, said the application process was an effort to honor Lewis’ legacy while “working within the applicable legal framework.”

There also will be a separate special election to fill the remainder of the civil rights hero’s term after his death Friday due to complications of pancreatic cancer. Gov. Brian Kemp has 10 days to schedule that vote to serve the rest of the Democrat’s term, which expires in January.

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Bryan Sells, an attorney specializing in elections law, said the governor has discretion on when to call the special election to fill the remainder of Lewis’ term, but predicted it would be held in November.

The online nominating process evokes memories of Kemp’s search last year for a successor to Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who stepped down in December due to health reasons. Hundreds of people applied over several months before the governor appointed Kelly Loeffler, a wealthy executive, to the seat.

Democratic officials say the applications for Lewis’ seat will be reviewed by a nominating committee stacked with some of the party’s most prominent figures.

The group includes Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, 2018 gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, former party chair DuBose Porter and Jason Carter, who ran for governor in 2014. Other members are Glen Paul Freedman, who serves on a key party committee, Fulton Democratic chair LeWanna Heard Tucker and DeKalb Democratic chair John Jackson.

That group will select a list of finalists it will pass to the party’s executive committee - a group of activists, donors and elected leaders - that would make the final decision.

With Lewis’ death, four of Georgia’s 14 U.S. House seats are open in November. Republican Reps. Tom Graves of Granger and Rob Woodall of Lawrenceville aren’t seeking re-election, and Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville is leaving the seat to run for U.S. Senate.

The last special election for a Georgia U.S. House seat occurred in 2017. President Donald Trump tapped then-U.S. Rep. Tom Price in November 2016 for a Cabinet post, triggering an April 2017 special election and a June runoff for the suburban Atlanta seat.

Lewis represents one of the safest Democratic seats in the nation, a majority-Black district that stretches from the heart of downtown Atlanta to parts of Clayton and DeKalb counties. Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly carried the district in 2016, and Lewis ran unopposed two years ago. Whoever the committee picks will be heavily favored to win.

Republican Angela-Stanton King is waging a long-shot bid for Lewis’ seat, and won her party’s nomination without opposition. The author and former reality show star was recently pardoned by Trump after her 2004 conviction on federal conspiracy charges for her role in a car theft ring.

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