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Opinion

What’s the Deal with the Democratic and Republican Party Ballot Questions?


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • May. 16, 2022 - 10:09 AM

What’s the Deal with the Democratic and Republican Party Ballot Questions?

Marc Hyden is the director of state government affairs at the R Street Institute. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.

Georgians seem more engaged than ever in the coming primary elections.

In the first day of early voting, “27,298 Georgians cast their ballots early, in-person […] almost double the number for the June 2020 primary,” reads a release from the Secretary of State, but this doesn’t even factor in the roughly 2,700 absentee ballots that were also returned by then.

In total, this represents a record-breaking first day of early voting for Georgia.

These numbers have since ballooned, and I was one of the many to return an absentee ballot, which was easy and simple. Like many of you, however, I was a little surprised by some of the questions on random issues found on my ballot and why they were even there in the first place.

“These questions are typically called advisory questions, and a spokesperson for Georgia's Secretary of State's Office confirmed only political parties are allowed to submit such questions during primaries,” according to 11 Alive News. To date, very few states other than Georgia permit this.

In essence, they serve as nonbinding, taxpayer-funded public opinion polls to inform party and elected officials of the will of the people. They have no direct impact on current policy, and not everyone will be able to vote on the same issues, since Democratic and Republican ballots consider different topics.

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably pretty angry that your hard-earned taxpayer money is essentially funding polling for deep-pocketed political parties. Nevertheless, if you decide to vote, you’ll have your chance to weigh in on the advisory questions. So what kind of issues can you expect to find on your ballot?

On Republican ballots, one question read, “Biological males who identify as females have begun competing in female sports. Should schools in Georgia allow biological males to compete in female sports?” I have no doubt that this issue is incredibly important to many voters. Regardless of where you fall on this topic, with inflation soaring, the stock market tanking, 401Ks in disarray and Russia mired in a major war, I think political leaders have more pressing issues before them than banning trans-females from sports.

Meanwhile, the first advisory question on the Democratic ballot asked about whether all student loan debt should be cancelled. This is a terrible idea that would only hurt the economy further, and it would be a regressive policy. “The top fifth of households holds $3 in student loans for every $1 held by the bottom fifth,” writes Forbes. What’s more, the forgiven loans wouldn’t just magically dissipate into the ether. Rather, dutiful taxpayers—many of whom have either already satisfied their student loans or never went to college—would ultimately repay the “forgiven” debt one way or another.

Perhaps not so surprisingly following a contentious 2020 election cycle, both the Democratic and Republican ballots had questions related to voting reforms. GOP ballots stated “Absentee drop boxes are vulnerable to illegal ballot trafficking. Should absentee ballot drop boxes be eliminated?”

First of all, that’s a leading question—akin to a push poll—but never mind that. I am a fan of drop boxes and have used them for their convenience. For those who worry about their absentee ballots being lost in the mail but don’t want to wait in line to vote, they can simply deposit their ballot in a drop box.

If used properly, they can be incredibly safe and secure. In Georgia, drop boxes can only be located inside specific government buildings used as early voting locations, and voters may only drop off ballots during voting hours when officials can monitor activity. It’s not a perfect system, but it should give voters confidence in the election and Georgians another way to remain engaged in elections.

Even so, judging by one of the Democratic advisory questions, the party would like to reform voting in the Peach State. “Should the State of Georgia expand voter access by increasing early voting opportunities, allow same-day voter registration, removing obstacles to voting by mail, and installing secure ballot drop boxes, accessible at all times, through Election Day?” the Democratic question read.

While it is important to make it easy to vote, Georgians need to be honest about the system we have in place: It’s not difficult at all to cast a ballot. Georgians can vote by absentee ballot via USPS or drop box; they can take advantage of in-person advanced voting from May 2-20, including two days of Saturday voting; or they can vote on primary election day (May 24).

This isn’t to say that policymakers can’t improve the current system. However, there are plenty of opportunities for voters to perform their civic duty, but they should be forewarned that there will be plenty of pointless advisory questions on their primary ballot.

Marc Hyden is the director of state government affairs at the R Street Institute. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.