Oconee County voters who choose the Democratic ballot in the May 24 primary will get a chance to express their opinions on nonpartisan elections for the county Board of Commissioners and for the county Board of Education.
They also will be asked if they would prefer to have districts for the Board of Commissioners posts, rather than the at-large districts used at present.
Voters who opt for the Republican ballot in the May 24 primary will be asked these same questions, but with a caveat.
The Oconee County Republican Party Executive Board took the unusual step of asking county Director of Elections and Registration Rebecca Anglin to provide it with the Democratic questions before submitting its own questions for the ballot.
The Republican Executive Board then submitted the Democratic questions, but with the statement the two questions were from the Democratic Party.
The Republican Executive Board then launched a campaign to get voters to indicate their opposition to nonpartisan elections and election districts.
The Democratic ballot contains nine other questions written by the state party, and the Republic ballot contains 13 questions, eight from the state party.
The Oconee Republican Party is asking voters if they want to be removed from the Oconee/Clarke Western Judicial Circuit and be combined with another Judicial Circuit. Responses to ballot questions are advisory.
The deadline for registration for the May 24 elections is Monday (April 25).
Request Of Anglin
Anglin told me in an email exchange on April 22 that the county Democratic Party “reached out to me on March 11th with their questions.”
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She said the “Republican Party submitted on March 13th but then asked for Democratic questions and decided to add those on March 14th (The deadline).”
“I did speak with the GOP chair several times via phone,” she said, referring to Kathy Hurley, chair of the Republican Party Executive Board.
Anglin said she contacted County Attorney Daniel Haygood before providing the Democratic questions to the Republican Party “to make sure this was acceptable and we treated each party the same."
“The Democratic Party did not request the Republican Parties questions,” she said. “However, I felt in all fairness they should receive them. I sent both parties questions to each party so they could read them.”
“Both parties were sent an email Monday, March 14th reminding them I had to have all questions and final submission by noon,” she wrote.
Attack On Questions
Adam Hammond, a former television journalist and member of the Oconee County Republican Party Executive Board, launched the campaign against the two items it included on the ballot in a Guest Column in The Oconee Enterprise on April 21.
“The future success and identity of Oconee County hang in the balance as a small minority is attempting to sneak dubious and non-representative policies into our beloved community,” Hammond wrote in the column, which appeared in the lead position on the paper’s editorial page.
Hammond said “some Democrats believe their only attempt at relevancy come from not having to reveal party affiliation.”
Hammond said election districts would result in officials being “compelled to jockey against one another seeking the interests of their specific neighborhood or area rather than the county as a whole.”
Near the end of the column Hammond acknowledged that “the questions on the ballot are non-binding and any change would have to go through the Georgia legislative process.”
“I ask voters of Oconee to stand with me in voting ‘no’,” Hammond wrote.
Hammond’s column also is on the web site and Facebook pages of the Oconee County Republican party.
“Our party believes candidates should be transparent about their political ideology and beliefs if they want to hold public office. Voters deserve to know. Join Adam and the Oconee GOP in voting ‘No' on questions 12 and 13,” the introduction to the column on the web pages states.
Exact Questions Asked By Democrats
The Oconee County Democratic Party submitted only the two questions for the Democratic Party ballot.
1. Should the Oconee Board of Education and Board of Commissioners elections be non-partisan? Non-Partisan means an individual does NOT expressly support or run on a party platform, one political party over another nor promote a particular political ideology.
2. Would Oconee County commissioners do a better job for their constituents if they were elected to represent a specific district in the county rather than the current at-large system in which every seat on either board represents the entire county as a whole.
The ambiguous reference to “either” board appears in the submitted second question, and both questions are on the ballot as submitted.
Republican Edited Questions
The Oconee County Republican Party edited the questions in two ways.
First, it inserted the statement, in bold, on the origin of the questions.
Second, it elaborated on “either board” in the districting question to include both the Board of Education and Board of Commissioners.
The edited version appears on the ballot for the Republican primary.
4. Should the Oconee Board of Education and Board of Commissioners elections be non-partisan? Non-Partisan means an individual does NOT expressly support or run on a party platform, one political party over another nor promote a particular political ideology. This question was drafted by the Democrat party and is being included on this ballot at the request of the Oconee County Republican Party.
5. Would Oconee County commissioners do a better job for their constituents if they were elected to represent a specific district in the county rather than the current at-large system in which every seat on either board, Board of Education and Board of Commissioners, represents the entire county as a whole. This question was drafted by the Democrat party and is being included on this ballot at the request of the Oconee County Republican Party.
I sent Hammond an email on April 23 saying “I am interested in knowing why you, as a member of the Oconee County Republican Party Executive Board, decided to argue against these two questions, which the Oconee County Republican Party Executive Board placed on the ballot.”
From Oconee Republican
Hammond wrote back that same day.
He did not address the question, but instead said “the two questions were initially instigated by the Democrats for their primary ballot.
“To have an accurate view of where Oconee County residents stand on those important issues it must be on the Republican ballot as well,” he wrote.
“I believe the majority of people in Oconee County do not support such a move because of the reasons I explained in the column, but we wouldn’t have an accurate picture of that unless it appeared on both ballots,” Hammond wrote.
“I hope that clarifies things,” he said. “Thanks for reaching out, and I hope you have a great Saturday.”
Many fewer voters are likely to ask for the Democratic ballot than the Republican ballot in Oconee County in the May 24 primary, so the questions would have attracted much less attention had the local Republican Party simply not asked them.
Hammond invoked Gwinnett County in his column, saying “It is time to send a message that we don’t want this group of a few to ‘Gwinnett” our Oconee.”
He said Gwinnett, as well as Rockdale County, had elected “fiscally irresponsible officials with no vision of planning or thoughtful policy making.”
After Democrats took control of the Gwinnett County Board of Education, Republican State Sen. Clint Dixon from Buford in Gwinnett County held hearings last year on a proposal to make all school boards in Georgia nonpartisan.
In the end, Dixon introduced legislation in this year’s General Assembly to make Gwinnett’s Board of Education alone nonpartisan.
That bill passed along party lines in the General Assembly, with Oconee County’s Rep. Houston Gaines, Rep. Marcus Wiedower, and Sen. Bill Cowsert, all Republicans, voting in favor of the bill to make the Gwinnett Board of Education elections nonpartisan.
“As Oconee County continues to be one of the most conservative counties in the state with an incredibly high voters turnout rate, some Democrats believe their only attempt at relevancy comes from not having to reveal party affiliation,” Hammond wrote in his column.
In the 2020 election, Oconee County ranked 88 out of 159 counties in percent of vote for then President Donald Trump, with 65.9 percent.
Brantley County gave Trump 90.24 percent of its vote, at the top of the list, and Clayton County gave him 14.1 percent, at the bottom of the list.
The first question put on the ballot by the Oconee County Republican Party dealt with its unhappiness that a Democrat, Deborah Gonzalez, was elected as District Attorney in a special election in 2020. No candidate ran as a Republican.
“Should Oconee County request to be removed from the Oconee/Clarke Judicial District (Western Judicial Circuit) and be combined with another Judicial Circuit?” will be the first local question on the Republican ballot.
The Judicial Council of Georgia in August of last year accepted the recommendation of its Workload Assessment Committee that no change be made to the boundaries of the Western Judicial Circuit made up of Oconee and Clarke counties.
The Workload Assessment Committee had reviewed a possible boundary change for the Western Judicial Circuit at the request of Rep. Wiedower and Rep. Gaines.
The other questions put on the ballot by the Oconee County Republican Party are:
2. Should Oconee Citizens have the opportunity to vote on unexpected vacancies when they occur on the Board of Education?
3. Should Oconee County Senior Citizens over the age of 70 receive a reduction on their property tax collected for school tax?
At present, the Board of Education fills openings on the Board through an internal process.
The questions placed on the ballot by the Georgia Democratic Party deal with Medicaid expansion, legalization of marijuana, same-day voting, free preschool education, student loan debt forgiveness, and parental leave.
The Republican Party questions submitted by the statewide party deal deal with border security, education funding, social media platforms, ballot tampering, election drop boxes, and Buckhead incorporation.
No overlap exists between any of the questions submitted by the two state parties, so only those using a Democratic ballot will get a chance to answer the items from the Democratic Party, and only Republican ballot users will get a chance to respond to questions from the statewide Republican Party.
In addition to the primaries, voters in the May 24 election will decide on nonpartisan judicial races. Those votes will be final after the May 24 voting.
Western Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judges Lisa Lott and Eric Wayne Norris are running unopposed.
Party Meeting, Early Voting
The Oconee County Republican Party is hosting David Perdue, a candidate in the Republican gubernatorial primary, and Tyler Harper, the only Republican candidate for Agriculture Commissioner, at 6:30 p.m. on Monday at Marswood Hall, 3761 Mars Hill Road.
The Party will not allow me to arrange to video record its meetings, and I do not attend indoor meetings on my doctor’s advice.
If someone does attend the meeting and provides me with an audio recording, I will write about the meeting in the future.
Early voting begins on May 2 at the Office of Elections and Registration, 10 Court Street, across the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
The deadline to request an absentee ballot is May 13. Absentee ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on May 24, regardless of when they are mailed.