Voters get to voice opinions on more than candidates this monthBy Walter C. Jones
Morris News Service
ATLANTA – In addition to picking nominees to run in the general election, voters in the Republican and Democratic primary this month will also get a chance to be heard on individual issues.
Besides the well-reported question of a regional tax increase for transportation, nine nonbinding questions also appear on the ballot. Republicans have five, and Democrats four.
A coalition of consumer-advocacy groups is sponsoring a statewide bus tour in support of a question on each party's ballot about limiting lobbyists' gives to legislators. And Georgia Right to Life is attempting to mobilize its followers to weigh in on an anti-abortion question on the GOP ballot.
While such straw polls are only for information, politicians concerned about their careers tend to pay attention. But, the House and Senate leaders are only making vague statements without any concrete promises to abide by an outcome they may not support.
"We're going to look at them. I'm always interested in how those sort of things go," said House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. "There are some controversial issues on there. ... I'm not going to say there is a magic number of support for something that would guarantee House action."
Across the Capitol, the Senate leadership is equally noncommittal.
"While the non-binding questions are the most accurate manner in which to poll Georgia voters, I hope all elected officials join me in governing first by the constraints of the Constitution," said Senate Republican Leader Chip Rogers of Woodstock. "Given the restrictions of the Constitution, we should always give great weight to the stated desires of the electorate."
One basis they could use in ignoring the results, at least those from the other political party's ballot, is the fact that access to the questions are limited to primary participants. Independents and members of the other party aren't included, notes Charles Bullock, political science professor at the University of Georgia.
"It's a very slanted, partisan result," he said.
Political parties have traditionally debated issues among their members at conventions. Often, delegates submit 100 or more resolutions for consideration as well as a formal platform that's voted on. The resolutions and platform debates used to be the center of attention, but now the parties put them off to the end when most delegates begin slipping out the door.
Ballot questions offer all party members a say, not just delegates. That gives elected officials a sense of what the broader electorate believes.
"It's nonbinding, but it would give them an idea. I think it's always good when our elective officials know what people think," said Sue Everhart, chairwoman of the Georgia Republican Party.
Her counterpart offered a nearly identical response in a separate interview.
"We really need to know what people are thinking rather than what we perceive they are thinking," said Mike Berlon, chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia.
And will the politicians respond?
"I trust our guys to make the right decision," Everhart said.
REPUBLICAN QUESTIONS – Here are the nonbinding questions Republican primary voters will have a say on this month:
1. Should Georgia have casino gambling with funds going to education?
2. Do you support ending the current practice of unlimited gifts from lobbyists to state legislators by imposing a $100 cap on such gifts?
3. Should active duty-military personnel who are under the age of 21 be allowed to obtain a Georgia weapons license?
4. Should Citizens who wish to vote in a primary election be required to register by their political party affiliation at least thirty days prior to such primary election?
5. Should the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide that the paramount right to life is vested in each innocent human being from his or her earliest biological beginning without regard to age, race, sex, health, function, or condition of dependency?
DEMOCRATIC QUESTIONS – Here are the questions voters will see when they request a Democratic ballot for this month's primary:
1. Should the Georgia Constitution be amended to allow the state to override locally-elected school boards' decisions when it comes to the creation of charter schools in your county or city?
2. Do you support ending the current practice permitting unlimited gifts from lobbyists to state legislators?
3. Should Georgia adopt an income tax credit for home energy costs to support the economic security of our families?
4. Should Georgia reduce sales taxes on Made in Georgia products so as to support the growth of small businesses in our state?