Georgia’s top election official scheduled the state’s presidential primary for a date in mid-March, dashing the hopes of state and national Democrats who wanted Georgia to be one of the first states to vote on the 2024 nominating calendar.
Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced his decision Thursday to hold the presidential primary on March 12, a date he said will put Georgia “at the center of the national focus.”
“Georgia is the bellwether state. If you can win Georgia, you will win nationally,” Raffensperger said during a press conference at the state Capitol.
It ends, for now, the dream of national Democrats who voted earlier this year to make Georgia the fourth state on the 2024 presidential nominating calendar — a move that would have further elevated Georgia’s status as a premier political battleground.
Setting the vote for March 12 makes Georgia the main attraction on a day that also includes primaries in Idaho, Mississippi and Washington state.
But scheduling the primary a week after a “Super Tuesday” headlined by California, Texas and Massachusetts also risks sidelining Georgia if former President Donald Trump or another GOP contender has already collected enough delegates to knock out all rivals.
Still, the timing is familiar for Georgia voters. The 2016 presidential primary was held on March 1 as part of an “SEC primary” of mostly Southern states. Four years later, officials initially scheduled Georgia’s vote for March 24 before the coronavirus pandemic forced its delay until June.
Democrats still hope to move the state up in the nominating process in 2028, and Raffensperger has told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he favors that idea. But his opinion may not matter by then. His second term expires in 2026, and it’s not clear whether he’ll seek reelection.
The push to move Georgia earlier in the calendar this election seemed doomed even before President Joe Biden backed a proposal that put South Carolina at the top of the party’s 2024 lineup, followed by New Hampshire, Nevada, Georgia and Michigan.
Georgia law gives Raffensperger the sole authority to set the primary date. And the Republican opposes any shifts that require two separate presidential primaries or risk the state’s delegates to either party’s convention.
Since national Republicans had already agreed to their lineup without Georgia among the first four states, jumping the ranks would cost the state GOP delegates.
Democrats hoped Gov. Brian Kemp would be tempted to support the plan because it would bring new attention and investment in Georgia — and give state Republicans more influence in shaping the wide-open GOP race in 2024.
But Kemp dealt the plan a blow when his administration abruptly announced that he won’t back the switch. And no other high-profile Georgia Republican endorsed the idea, even as Democrats pressed an argument that it would generate a surge of spending.
It’s the second major setback to Georgia Democrats this month. After intense lobbying, Biden selected Chicago over Atlanta as host of the Democratic National Convention, picking a solid-blue state in the heart of the Upper Midwest over one of the nation’s most competitive areas.
By scheduling the presidential primary well in advance, election officials will have enough time to prepare for high turnout in one of the most politically competitive states in the nation, Gwinnett County Elections Supervisor Zach Manifold said.
“Once you’re a state that has national interest, all the elections end up being about the same intensity level,” Manifold said. “We want to make sure we have everything ready for that first election in 2024. Getting all those poll workers trained in November and December, and getting a plan in place, is important.”
Four years ago, Raffensperger initially scheduled the presidential primary for March 24, 2020, but it was twice postponed until June because of the coronavirus pandemic. Then on election day, many voters waited in line for hours because of a combination of poll worker shortages, polling place closures and the introduction of a new voting system.
This time, Manifold hopes for a more normal election, without the disruptions caused by COVID-19 in the weeks leading up to the primary.
Many Georgia voters were receptive to the calendar overhaul. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released earlier this year showed 42% of Georgia voters supported placing the state near the start of the 2024 lineup. Forty percent opposed the idea, and 17% didn’t know.
“That March 12th date maximizes Georgia’s influence and paints the greatest economic impact while ensuring that no party loses delegates and our county election officials are set up for success,” Raffensperger said.
Democratic leaders had said it’s time to reward states such as Georgia where Black voters form the backbone of the party.
“We rely on these voters in elections but have not recognized their importance in our nominating calendar,” Biden wrote to the Democratic National Committee’s rules panel in December. “It is time to stop taking these voters for granted.”
In her address to DNC members, U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams struck a similar theme. Williams, the chair of the state party, highlighted the popular saying that “Atlanta influences everything” to national party leaders in February.
“Georgia indeed influences everything — from the civil rights movement to the political landscape of today. And we will continue for years to come,” Williams said. “We know the true North of the Democratic Party is in the Deep South — Georgia.”
Others say Georgia will be a political force with a later vote on the calendar, given its status as one of the few battleground states on the 2024 electoral map. Early voting would begin in late February, potentially drawing more visits and investment.
“There are too many voters and delegates there,” said Josh Putnam, a political scientist who writes the FrontloadingHQ blog, which tracks the details of the primary process.
“And it would mean the parties and candidates would be passing on an opportunity to build for the general election campaign.”