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Ballot questions: Voters favor county elections by district
Democrats also think county should buy, run golf course
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County voters want their county commissioners and school board members elected by district.

That was the top result of separate, nonbinding ballot questions each party posed to its voters Tuesday.

More than 72 percent of Republicans, or 9,282 votes, supported the idea, while Democrats surprised even themselves, with nearly 86 percent, or 1,227 votes, in favor.

Currently, candidates qualify in the district where they live, but are elected countywide.

"My sense was that the Republicans were really interested in maintaining the at-large kind of voting, so this was a great result, because it was on both sides," said Virgilio Perez Pascoe, a local Democrat. "It's both sides saying we need to have district voting."

Nonbinding ballot questions can serve as a test run for local support on issues that voters could decide -- for real -- in future elections. They can also help state legislators gauge public support for a measure.

The local parties have the right to pose such questions on their respective ballots, though the move was the first time in at least 15 years in Forsyth County.

Pascoe, former Georgia Democratic Party vice chairman for constituent groups, said he disagreed with the result of the other question on the Democratic ballot, suggesting the county take over the Lanier Golf Course through the green space bond and operate it as a public facility.

Nearly 75 percent of Democratic voters, or 1,078,  supported the idea, which Pascoe said is "not something we should be taking care of."

"I'd much rather use the very few funds we have in the county to protect additional green spaces, rather than for ones that are already existing at that point," he said. "But I'm in the minority on that position."

Though Democrats asked only two questions on their ballot, Republicans had five.

In addition to district voting, Republican voters were asked: if they favor a constitutional amendment supporting paramount right to life; if they support a school voucher system; and if they know about and support the Fair Tax Act.

More than 63 percent, or 8,018 Republican voters, supported the right to life question and nearly 70 percent, or 8,707, supported school vouchers.

Andrew Miller, chairman of the local GOP, said he wasn't surprised by the results.

"When you put something out there in a heavily Republican county, you will often times receive a more central response to conservative issues," he said.

What was surprising, Miller said, was the response to the district voting, which he said is not a party issue.

"It's interesting that it carried a similar majority as the conservative question," he said. "I wouldn't have expected them to be that close in the percentages, because voting via district versus voting countywide is not something that is in the Republican Party platform."

Gary J. Smith, the county's elections chief, said voters have made it clear.

"I would say that certainly the commissioners are going to have to evaluate this, when the votes by the people are three to one in favor," he said. "It seems to be when the counties get large, they start voting for commissioners by district.

"It's to the point where people are looking to have more responsiveness to local groups, and I think it's because the county has gotten so large."

Support of the Fair Tax was anticipated, Miller said, but not to the extent of nearly 85 percent, or 10,287 of the Republican voters.

That surprised even Pascoe.

"There's obviously an awful lot of sensitivity to that kind of thinking and it's a big thing to the voters, so we need to be able to address expenses and taxing, particularly in this difficult time," he said. "I don't think the Fair Tax has a prayer ... but it does represent a sense of what voters are thinking."

Because the questions are nonbinding, results can be used for informational purposes.

Miller said he plans to create activities and educational events around the more widely supported responses, and will also talk to state and federal delegates using the results to back their plea.

"The vote gives the issue some credibility behind it," Miller said. "The nonbinding questions are really one of the best ways to get information from the voting segment, whether it's county, district or state and even federal issues.

"It doesn't necessarily mean it mandates that state legislators should jump on it, but it is certainly something they should consider."