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Unofficial Opinion 97-20

Unofficial Opinion 97-20

May 30, 1997
To: 

Representative
District 45

Re: 

The Secretary of State, Attorney General, State School Superintendent, Commissioner of Insurance, Commissioner of Agriculture and Commissioner of Labor must be elected by a majority vote.

You have requested my opinion as to whether the Secretary of State, Attorney General, State School Superintendent, Commissioner of Insurance, Commissioner of Agriculture and Commissioner of Labor must be elected by majority vote. It is my opinion that these Officers must be so elected, absent a constitutional amendment providing for their election by some other manner.

Up until the 1994 session of the General Assembly, candidates for all federal, state and county offices were elected to office by a majority vote. 1964 Ga. Laws Extra. Sess. 26, 174-75 (former Ga. Code Ann. § 34-1513; O.C.G.A. § 21-2-501). In 1994, the General Assembly adopted an amendment to this requirement stating:

To be elected to public office in a general election, a candidate must receive a plurality of the votes cast in an election to fill such public office.

1994 Ga. Laws 279, 286 (sec. 11) (amending O.C.G.A. § 21-2-501(b)). “Public office” refers to federal, state and county offices. O.C.G.A. § 21-2-2(25).

However, this 1994 amendment also provided that:

Until and unless Article V, Section II, Paragraph VIII(b) of the Constitution is amended so as to provide for plurality election of the Secretary of State, Attorney General, State School Superintendent, Commissioner of Insurance, Commissioner of Agriculture, and Commissioner of Labor, such officers shall continue to be elected by majority vote as provided by the law in effect prior to July 1, 1994.

1994 Ga. Laws 279, 287 (sec. 11). The specific portion of the Constitution referred to in this statutory reference provides:

In the case of the death or withdrawal of a person who received a majority of votes cast in an election for the office of Secretary of State, Attorney General, State School Superintendent, Commissioner of Insurance, Commissioner of Agriculture, or Commissioner of Labor, the Governor elected at the same election, upon becoming Governor, shall have the power to fill such office by appointing, subject to the confirmation of the Senate, an individual to serve until the next general election and until a successor for the balance of the unexpired term shall have been elected and qualified.

Ga. Const. 1983, Art. V, Sec. II, Para. VIII(b) . Taking these two provisions together, it is apparent that the General Assembly has made a legislative determination that the Constitution requires the six constitutional officers in question be elected by majority vote.

This legislative determination is an appropriate reading of these constitutional and statutory provisions. The constitutional provision regarding the filling of vacancies in these offices requires, if not directly then by clear implication, that these six officers should be elected by a majority vote. To read the Constitution differently would be to virtually read out of existence this specific provision addressing vacancies in these offices and leave no clear constitutional process for filling these vacancies.

The law must be read to make sense of all its parts and to give a sensible and intelligent effect to each of its parts. Osborn v. State, 161 Ga. App. 132 (1982); 1993 Op. Att’y Gen. 93-12, p. 34, citing Houston v. Lowes of Savannah, Inc., 235 Ga. 201 (1975). It must be also read to give full force and effect to all of its provisions. See Head v. H.J. Russell Constr. Co., 152 Ga. App. 864 (1980). Given these requirements, the "majority vote" language may not be ignored and can only be read, in context, as an expression that the six constitutional officers named must be elected by a majority vote. This interpretation harmonizes all portions of the Constitution and gives full force and effect to the provisions governing the filling of vacancies in the offices in question.

Therefore, it is my opinion that the Secretary of State, Attorney General, State School Superintendent, Commissioner of Insurance, Commissioner of Agriculture and Commissioner of Labor must be elected by a majority vote.

Prepared by:

DENNIS R. DUNN
Senior Assistant Attorney General


This provision parallels the earlier provision of the Constitution of 1976 (Art. V, Sec. III, Para. I; former Ga. Code Ann. § 2-2901) and the Constitution of 1945 (former Ga. Code Ann. § 2-3101).