A History of Georgia’s Party Primary Ballot questions

I’m writing this post to document the history of the limited access to direct democracy in the U.S. state of Georgia, and especially about the potential small-d democratic opportunities which can be used to advise city, county and state legislators. For reference, here is a Google Drive folder of all the party advisory questions placed on the ballot in Georgia at state and county levels since 2000 (ongoing at the moment).

History of direct democracy in Georgia

Georgia mostly missed the boat, or rather, the tide of the initiative & referendum movement which took more westward states by storm in the late 19th-early 20th century. From 1911-1913, the General Assembly moved to extend initiative, referendum and recall rights to the residents of four cities, including Atlanta. The first ballot measures for legislatively-referred constitutional amendments took place in 1924. The first amendments to be rejected at the ballot were five out of 13 proposed amendments on the November 4, 1930 ballot. The most recent proposed amendments to fail at the ballot was Amendment 1 on the November 8, 2016 ballot, which would have established the so-called “Opportunity School District” as a statewide at-large school district over public schools deemed “chronically failing”.

In addition, county and city governments can place questions on the ballot for all voters, and can choose a date. Counties can place a question on the ballot (whether in the nonpartisan section of a primary ballot, or on the general election ballot) by one of the following means:

  • county commissioners voting to place the question on the ballot
  • citizens gathering a required number of petition signatures to amend (or veto changes to) local ordinances, resolutions, and regulations.

Either option requires a majority of the city or county’s delegation in the General Assembly to file a bill in support of the referendum, and for the General Assembly to approve the bill.

In addition, there is a third way to put a question on the ballot, one which is advisory in most ways but can have an indirect, motivating impact on legislation.

Party Advisory Questions on Primary Ballots

Around April 1997, a law allowing for parties to place advisory questions on the primary ballot was passed by the General Assembly, making Georgia only one of three states to allow parties’ chairs to place questions on primary ballots (alongside Texas and South Carolina). In 2000, the Richmond County Republican Party became the first recorded county party to use this law to place a question on the primary ballot, doing so with 6 questions that year. The practice increased across many counties over the next five primaries, and in 2012 questions were placed for the first time on statewide primary ballots, with both the Democratic Party of Georgia placing 4 questions and the Georgia Republican Party placing 5.

On a few occasions in a few counties, both parties have placed the same question on the ballot, including Rockdale in 2012 and Pickens in 2018, both of which were related to the form of government to be taken by the county government. To date, no statewide primary ballot has had both parties place the question on the same ballot.

Due to the way that such polls are written, they’re usually fluffy questions which do not deviate from the party’s already-established platform. The few times that a question is fielded from outside of party orthodoxy is usually intended to gin up primary voter opposition to the question.

Marijuana/Cannabis on the Georgia Ballot

Only a few good-faith questions which deviate from party orthodoxy have been fielded by county parties, such as Henry County Republicans’ 2020 Question 4, asking Republican voters whether marijuana should be legalized and taxed to the same extent as alcohol. Republican voters approved this question 9,849 to 9,415 (51.13%-48.87%). However, in 2018, two similar questions (one asking whether medical marijuana should be legalized, and another asking the same for recreational marijuana) provided a more complicated picture among Republican voters in multiple, largely-rural counties, with 6 counties’ Republican primaries registering lopsided support for medical marijuana but the same voters in 3 of those counties registering lopsided opposition to recreational marijuana (those being the only counties which polled Republicans on recreational marijuana that year).

By comparison, marijuana has been on at least one county’s Democratic ballot every year since 2014, all winning lopsidedly at the polls:

  • Cherokee and Whitfield Dems on recreational, Richmond Dems on medical (2014)
  • Catoosa Dems on medical marijuana (2016)
  • Forsyth and Glynn Dems on recreational (2018)
  • Forsyth and Walton Dems for recreational (2020)

How to capitalize on advisory questions

I think that party advisory questions, while incredibly flawed in only being placed by party leaders on separate primary ballots, offer an opportunity for massive polling of the primary-voting public on issues, not only for well-established party platforms but also for newer ideas which have yet to be incorporated into party platforms. In addition, polling of the primary-voting public through advisory questions can offer glimpses into regional divides, nuances and knowledge about newer ideas.

For example, Cobb4Transit’s post on the results of two 2020 Democratic advisory questions in Cobb County – Question 7 on a one-center sales tax for transit funding, and Question 8 on MARTA expansion into Cobb – provides an in-depth look at the nuances of support for these positions on the Democratic side in Cobb County.

A 2020 Republican statewide question (Republican Question 2), which called for establishing closed party primaries to determine primary winners, failed by 1-2%. The data shows that the idea has support among Republicans in northern and coastal Georgia, with the greatest opposition coming from western, middle and southern Georgia Republicans. A similar question was asked to South Carolina Republicans in the 2018 and 2020 primaries, receiving 92.30% and 86.47% respectively.

I expect marijuana legalization to be on the Democratic statewide party primary ballot in 2022. It may be the biggest question that the Democratic Party of Georgia hasn’t yet asked on the statewide ballot, after a near decade of asking primary voters their position on already-settled party positions such as Medicaid expansion, expanding HOPE access and gun control.

Similarly, for LGBT civil rights activists, Whitfield’s 2014 Democratic Question 6 and Cobb’s 2020 Democratic Question 11, both of which asked voters whether their county should pass a non-discrimination law covering sexual orientation and gender identity (Cobb’s listed more categories), received resounding endorsements, winning 75.58% in Whitfield and 97.41% in Cobb. This is another question that the DPG State Chair should be encouraged to ask to Democrats statewide, in regards to the proposed Georgia Civil Rights Act.

But finally, more county commissions should be encouraged to follow Wisconsin’s example in placing advisory questions on the November general election ballot.

Another Day in Anti-Democracy

Today, Montana repealed same-day voter registration and created a new law requiring students to provide secondary documentation to support one’s student ID in order to register to vote.

Today, Florida passed a law denying bail to those accused of a crime at a protest.

Today, Idaho’s Senate passed a bill raising the number of legislative districts from which a ballot initiative campaign must gather petition signatures to 6% of registered voters from all 35 legislative districts.

Sometimes I wonder if Democrats are to blame for these regressions because we are not spread out enough and are moving more to suburbs, cities and “coasts”. Or at least it seems like we’re blamed for our relocation habits, and that Republicans are taking out violent and administrative political revenge against the cities.

The further you get from the South or Midwest, the less that Black people have to constitute an appreciable segment of the population for white people to support voter suppression. Black people, like three of my sisters/nieces (Jaden, Tanisha and Jasmine) or the current Helene Mayor Wilmot Collins (the first Black mayor of any city in Montana since statehood), constitute 0.50% of Montana’s population.

Who are Montana and Idaho screwing over? Native Americans. College students, especially those from out of state. People of Mexican or Central American descent. Urban/suburban voters who may vote for Medicaid expansion.

We agree on less and less policy with white rural voters who fear losing power to even white people in suburban areas.

Seeing the shit-eating grin of Montana’s governor as he takes pictures signing this shit bill is angering.

African-Americans Played a Huge Role in the modernization of the ambulance

TIL that we didn’t have any paramedic-staffed civilian emergency medical service in the United States until the establishment of Freedom House Ambulance Service in 1967, that prior means of emergency transportation to hospitals were operated by police departments, that the founding paramedics of Freedom House were almost all Black residents of the Hill District of Pittsburgh (some of whom are still alive and are still active in the same community to this day), and that this same service and its paramedics were supremely screwed over by the racist Mayor of Pittsburgh up to its closure in 1975.

But it is scary to think that, in this country, there was no such thing as an ambulance which tried to provide first aid and resuscitation en route to the hospital until 1967. It is scary to think that the main means of emergency transportation was being thrown in the back of the police van and left to fend for oneself on the way.

The way that Freedom House brought about the modern EMS system in the United States is something to think about as we discuss cities expanding emergency first-response to include social workers and mental health professionals and reduce the usage of police in answering mental health crises, while also making sure to eventually separate mental health first-response from police administration.

Georgia Conservatives’ hypocritical reaction against MLB

Good morning.

for being a people so deeply ingrained with anti-organizing sentiments for working-class labor, conservative Southerners seem really awfully entitled to these jobs and money which are taken away by these corporate withdrawals.

“You’re just taking away/hurting jobs/opportunities from these poor minority-owned businesses/workers with your virtue signaling! REEEEEEEEE”

But I thought we’re a “right-to-work”, “at-large employment” state? I thought real Southerners don’t need the support of organized labor? I thought that “labor is always replaceable and should be grateful for the opportunity to be hired” is the mentality of the true Southerner? I thought that no one should “be forced” to keep any employee on?

Maybe that doesn’t apply when the conservative Southern mechanism to prevent the latest phantasm of “voter fraud” by the “uppity” “Inwards” and keep power in their own generational hands is threatened so publicly by liberal non-Southerners and their businesses.

You also notice that Governor Lurch isn’t issuing any sort of EO to provide relief to those who may be affected by these withdrawals? Does he care, or does he campaign?

The next Democratic Governor of Georgia: Day one Actions

Was just thinking, since the GOP will gerrymander the shit out of this state as much as they can without violating the letter of the VRA, what we must prepare for the next four years in the same way we were talking about why electing Biden and a Democratic congressional trifecta would matter: harm reduction, a la Edwards in LA (except for the stupid anti-abortion thing), Cooper in NC, Wolf in PA, Whitmer in MI, or Evers in WI.

But to concur with a Facebook post from DeKalb Dems chair John Jackson, even if we had won the State House last year and had been in a better position to secure a Democratic trifecta in 2022, “vote blue no matter who” would still not be enough.

You’d want to be proactive like the trifectas in Colorado and Virginia these last two years, not be so ignorant of structural and environmental inequities like Dems in Minnesota have historically been.

If we are re-entering into a period of two-party competition, and we elect Dems into statewide executive office, they must be ready on day one in January 2023 to punch back against an antagonistic General Assembly with a slew of executive orders, directives, agency rules, nominees and advisory committees at the ready, and they must address, within all capacity allowed to these offices, structural inequities.

EDIT: We need to learn the limitations and legal support for executive orders under Georgia law. It’s not explicitly defined under the state constitution, only implied, and otherwise has only statutory support. Our Democratic nominee who may very well win will need to further test the waters of case law to see how far they can go around statute law.

A good example of what other orders for the next Dem governor to implement in this state is Deborah Gonzalez‘s excellent, broad “day one” memo upon her taking office as Western Circuit DA: https://drive.google.com/…/1SHwcNeKMZmsCMJkddUv…/view…

What a Year as YDG Secretary

As of tonight, I am now the former Secretary of the Young Democrats of Georgia. I took up and served (remotely!) in this position during perhaps the most awful year in recent history, a year when I came so close to death, and we survived and made it work and shocked the world. All in a year!

Glad to have worked with Rachel, Jaylan, Benjamin, Zane, Becky, Hannah, Eddie, Sophie, Jay, Arteen, Joe and Sean in leading meetings of our Board of Directors and Executive Committee. Also glad to have worked with Alaina, Maria, Charlotte, and Lakortornette as Vice Chair of Black Caucus to the Young Democrats of Georgia.

My proudest moment was texting Rachel and Alaina from Columbus while watching them participate in the Electoral College for Georgia on December 14, 2020. What a moment (and we’re all still pro-abolishing the Electoral College)!

But I’m 34, I have my hands full with other party and non-party orgs this coming year as a volunteer leader (i.e., with African American Caucus of the Democratic Party of Georgia, Greening Georgia, Young Democrats of Georgia – LGBTQ Caucus and Better Ballot Georgia), and I’m more than happy to pass this position on to Emily Zanieski (aka Yung EZ IMO).

Looking forward to staying involved in YDG under the leadership of Rick, Emily, Zane and the rest of the new board!

Also, thanks to Rachel and Jen on sending me that mug and tea when I was recovering!

Another role I’m glad to have played is shepherding Young Democrats of Georgia’s platform and resolutions to a more progressive position in both 2020 and 2021.

Today, the platform contains a formal land acknowledgement prior to the preamble, recognizing the traditional indigenous custodians of the land we call Georgia, including Muscogee Creek, Cherokee, Seminole and other nations.

The platform also includes items such as calls for

  • the abolition of qualified immunity,
  • the removal of Confederate monuments,
  • the abolition of felony disfranchisement,
  • the prohibition of hair style or texture discrimination,
  • more proportional elections systems
  • public financing of elections at all levels
  • abolition of cash bail
  • abolition of prison gerrymandering
  • a replacement of the state flag of Georgia with a new flag without Confederate symbology or stylings of the Great Seal of Georgia.
  • support the reduction in size and funding for the bloated military
  • support for forgiveness of all student loan debt and interest
  • support local autonomy on funding for law enforcement
  • and more!

Anti-corporate, anti-labor conservatives

This anti-corporate Republican Party which desires corporate funding but detests both corporate liberalism and still detests organized labor is interesting and awful to behold, even as it has a stranglehold on state legislatures across the country.

This puts Democrats into a weird spot of internal tension, in which many of the same companies which were once members of ALEC (and its larger troika) are now members of the Civic Alliance professing support for voting rights in their boardrooms, while unions are organizing for Fight for $15 and for organizing newer sectors, such as journalists, programmers and staffers in politics and government. And many in both sectors are supporting progressive organizations over at least this one issue of voting rights.

Republicans have gone from telling players “shut up and dribble” to telling CEOs to “shut up and donate”. And there are still enough corporate conservatives with enough money to sustain the GOP’s anti-suffrage madness into local and statewide office across the country.

facts on contested Democratic primaries since 2006

To follow up on the list of early-announced DPG candidates for statewide:

  • 2018: Governor, LG, Secretary of State, Insurance Commissioner, Labor Commish, State Supt., and PSC Districts 3 and 5 all had contested primaries.
  • 2014: Only SoS, Insurance, State Supt. were contested. PSC District 1 had no Democratic candidate. A terrible year.
  • 2010: Governor, LG, SOS, AG, State Supt. and Labor Commish were all contested. All the remaining Democratic incumbents for Insurance, Agriculture, Labor and AG did not run for re-election, with Thurmond being nominated for Senate. This was also a census year.
  • 2006: Governor, LG, SOS and State Supt. were all contested. This was the last time Dems carried any statewide executive offices: AG, Ag Commissioner and Labor.
  • A running theme is that SoS and State Superintendent keep getting contested primaries.
  • My assumption is that some Democratic state legislators who may be in danger of getting drawn either out of their districts or into fierce contests against fellow Dems may go for statewide office instead.
  • As noted by Sarah Zibanejadrad Beeson, only one woman has thrown her hat in so far for a 2022 executive primary. Need more! Need women running for all the offices in this primary!Expect more announcements between now and June.
  • As I so often note, in the 2018 election for SoS, John Barrow ended up in the first statewide executive general runoff in Georgia history. His first-round performance in rural Georgia – particularly in the 10th District, is nothing to sniff at (not to mention the Libertarian performance), but Senator Warnock’s statewide rural performance sets the high-water mark.
  • My preference for a SoS is someone who can pitch Georgia becoming the next Colorado on voting rights. My preference for an AG is someone who can fight the legislature when it attacks our civil rights.

Republicans will react badly to being taken down a peg in georgia in 2022

When Dems take the governorship and other statewide offices but can’t get either chamber of the legislature and can’t see any non-conservatives win Supreme Court seats, expect the following:

  • the GOP to play keep-away with lots of executive powers previously available to Republican executives with trifectas, like in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
  • the All-GOP-appointed “nonpartisan” Supreme Court of Georgia to be hostile to Dem officeholders’ executive orders and struggles with the legislature.
  • more legislative attacks on local governments and District Attorneys’ autonomy, such as we’ve seen in the last two sessions.

Expect this especially if the GOP manages to gerrymander themselves a legislative supermajority for 2022 but still manage to lose statewide executive offices. US Senate, Governor, Lt governor, SoS and AG are absolute must-wins for 2022.

If you think about how Dems won two Senate seats, it’s easier to think of SB202 as a legislative measure to shit the bed on the way out of total statewide control of executive office rather than merely a way for GAGOP to punish Raffensperger, a true believer in the voter fraud hoax. This is insurance.

LGBT News in Columbus, GA