It’s widely agreed upon that one of the worst aspects of voting is being confronted by vaguely worded ballot questions that one is unprepared to answer without having done significant homework. That’s because many ballot questions provide few clues to what they would actually do, and some are genuinely misleading—which shouldn’t be a surprise considering that ballot wording is often crafted by the very officials advocating for a measure’s passage.
Even setting aside the appalling presidential race, Tuesday’s election is set to be a complicated and convoluted voter experience, with no fewer than four state constitutional amendments and an array of local referendums. To make your experience a little easier, here’s a brief guide to the ballot items facing most metro Atlantans:
Constitutional amendment 1
The Description: Provides greater flexibility and state accountability to fix failing schools through increasing community involvement.
The Question: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?”
The Breakdown: This would allow for control of poorly performing schools to be taken away from local school boards and given to a new, state-controlled school district. This proposal has proven highly divisive, not least because it’s seen by critics as a power-grab by Governor Nathan Deal. It’s likewise been attacked as an effort to undermine public schools in favor of privately managed charter schools. Even many Republicans are uncomfortable with taking decision-making power—and the tax money that comes with it—away from locally elected school boards. But if you believe the state would do a better job running schools than local districts, this amendment should appeal to you.
Constitutional amendment 2
The Description: Authorizes penalties for sexual exploitation and assessments on adult entertainment to fund child victims’ services.
The Question: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow additional penalties for criminal cases in which a person is adjudged guilty of keeping a place of prostitution, pimping, pandering, pandering by compulsion, solicitation of sodomy, masturbation for hire, trafficking of persons for sexual servitude, or sexual exploitation of children and to allow assessments on adult entertainment establishments to fund the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund to pay for care and rehabilitative and social services for individuals in this state who have been or may be sexually exploited?”
The Breakdown: This would levy a tax to create a new fund to help victims of sex trafficking. The tax would only apply to those convicted of sex crimes, as well as to strip clubs, sex-toy shops, and other adult entertainment businesses. While there’s arguably little direct connection between the sale of vibrators and the scourge of sex trafficking, this measure has received little vocal opposition.
Constitutional amendment 3
The Description: Reforms and re-establishes the Judicial Qualifications Commission and provides for its composition, governance, and powers.
The Question: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to abolish the existing Judicial Qualifications Commission; require the General Assembly to create and provide by general law for the composition, manner of appointment, and governance of a new Judicial Qualifications Commission, with such commission having the power to discipline, remove, and cause involuntary retirement of judges; require the Judicial Qualifications Commission to have procedures that provide for due process of law and review by the Supreme Court of its advisory opinions; and allow the Judicial Qualifications Commission to be open to the public in some manner?”
The Breakdown: This is another hotly contended ballot item. The Judicial Qualifications Commission is a board appointed by the State Bar of Georgia, the state Supreme Court, and the governor to investigate complaints of corruption, incompetence, and impropriety by judges; it has forced the resignation of 66 judges over the past decade. But state lawmakers seem to believe the largely independent commission has overstepped, so they want to replace its members with their own appointees. It should be noted that one of the sponsors of the amendment was formerly a judge who was forced to step down by the board, a fact that has helped fuel criticism that the proposed legislative takeover is political payback. In any case, this is another instance of state lawmakers attempting to consolidate power under the Gold Dome.
Related Article: Commentary on Amendment 3 by Georgians for Judicial Integrity
Constitutional amendment 4
The Description: Dedicates revenue from existing taxes on fireworks to trauma care, fire services, and public safety.
The Question: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide that the proceeds of excise taxes on the sale of fireworks or consumer fireworks be dedicated to the funding of trauma care, firefighter equipping and training, and local public safety purposes?”
The Breakdown: This question is refreshingly straightforward: Do you want existing taxes on fireworks to help burn victims and aid fire prevention?
Fulton County Freeport Exemption for E-Commerce
The Question: “Shall Fulton County, Georgia be authorized to grant a Freeport Exemption to E-Commerce goods stored in fulfillment centers from taxation?”
The Breakdown: With its miles of warehouses, Fulton Industrial Boulevard is a major tax generator for the county. This measure is aimed at attracting more Amazon-like businesses to the county by providing an exemption on inventory taxes.
City of Atlanta Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales and Use Tax (T-SPLOST) Referendum
The Question: “Shall an additional .4 percent sales tax be collected in the City of Atlanta for 5 years for the purpose of transportation improvements and congestion reduction?”
The Breakdown: This is pretty straightforward as well; the tax is expected to raise $300 million over the next five years to fund work on streets, sidewalks, traffic signals, and trails, with nearly $66 million earmarked for the BeltLine. Outside the Atlanta city limits, Fulton is asking voters to approve a countywide .75-cent increase. This is being pushed in combination with the proposed MARTA tariff; proponents argue that the two measures would solve many long-standing transportation woes.
Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) Sales and Use Tax Referendum
The Question: “Shall an additional sales tax of one-half percent be collected in the City of Atlanta for the purpose of significantly expanding and enhancing MARTA transit service in Atlanta?”
The Breakdown: MARTA is famously the nation’s largest transit agency that receives negligible state funding. The proposed sales tax increase is an effort to expand the system’s reach and improve service without relying on state lawmakers for help.
Related Article: Why MARTA wants you to read your ballot all the way to the end
Creation of the City of South Fulton in Fulton County
The Question: “Shall the Act incorporating the City of South Fulton in Fulton County and granting the homestead exemptions described therein be approved?”
The Breakdown: This is the second vote on whether to form a city out of the last remaining portion of unincorporated land in Fulton County following a failed 2007 effort.