Survey questions will be on May ballots
by Sarah Fay Campbell
Republican and Democratic voters will get a chance to express their opinions on a wide variety of topics on the May 20 primary ballot.
Republican primary voters will see 11 ballot questions, all added by the Coweta County Republican Party. The state Democratic Party has submitted four ballot questions.
Georgia has an open primary system, which means voters can choose whether to vote in the Republican or Democratic primary. However, if there is a runoff, you can’t vote in the Democratic runoff if you voted Republican in the primary, and vice versa.
The ballot questions aren’t binding, but are a means to gather voter opinion.
Two years ago, both the state Republican and Democratic parties asked primary voters their thoughts on limiting the amount of money lobbyists can spend on legislators. The overwhelming support for those limits led to the passage of legislation the following year.
Roughly 90 percent of voters preferred the limits, and “that put (House Speaker David) Ralston and leadership in a position that they had to act on it,” said Brant Frost V, chairman of the Coweta County Republican Party.
The most important thing about ballot questions is “they provide an outlet for people’s voices to be heard,” Frost said.
“It’s a giant poll of public opinion of the Republican party,” he said. And it’s free. Local parties can submit the questions and there is no cost, unless the questions take up so much space that an extra ballot page is needed.
Not only do the questions provide a poll of thousands of voters, the responses are also broken down by precinct. “There are so many questions that you can get a profile of a precinct,” Frost said.
Getting opinions from that many people in some other way would be expensive and time consuming.
“It’s an incredible tool that more people should be using,” Frost said. “It’s a way to make your voice heard in a way that legislators will listen."
“I’m looking forward to the results,” said Frost. “It is going to be the local thing for Republicans to talk about.”
This is the first time the local party has put questions on the ballot, Frost said. To determine what questions to put on the ballot, the party leadership came up with 15 questions and then asked party members which ones they thought should be on the ballot.
One question posed was whether the state should allow medical use of marijuana. The party decided not to put that question on the ballot because it looked like legislation that would allow limited medical use of marijuana derivatives was going to pass the state legislature. However, the legislation ended up failing.
Only a small percentage of local Republicans are active in the local party. The poll questions will be a good way to find out how the vast majority of Coweta Republicans feel about key policy issues, Frost said.
As for the Democratic Party questions, “Ours is exactly what you would expect of the Democratic Party,” said state party spokesman Michael Smith. “We try to speak to the issues we’re hearing from our folks.”
The non-partisan races for the Coweta County Board of Education will be on the Republican and Democratic ballots, and voters can also choose a non-partisan ballot. There is only one local race on the partisan primary: Congressman Lynn Westmoreland is being challenged by Chip Flanegan for the Republican nomination. Several state races have both Republican and Democratic primaries.
Frost thinks the ballot questions might draw enough interest to increase turnout. “Hopefully, it will give more people the urge to vote,” he said. “Maybe there is just one more person, who has no other reason to vote, who hears from his neighbor that an issue he really cares about is coming up,” Frost said. “If that makes him vote on a ballot that is otherwise uncontested, it’s worthwhile.”
Early voting for the May 20 primary begins on April 28. The voter registration deadline is April 21.