Voters who choose a Democratic or Republican ballot for the May 21 primary election will find a number of policy questions on their ballot — right between the partisan and nonpartisan races. These partisan advisory questions, which are selected by county and state party officials, are non-binding — so what are they for?

Al ilmu spoke with DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry, a Democrat, and Republican political strategist Brian Robinson to find out.

The purpose of these questions is to tell party leadership what voters are feeling, akin to a poll, both said.

“They're intended to inform Republican leaders of what the party's base is interested in — and how passionately they're interested,” said Robinson, the Republican strategist. “So it's supposed to be a guide for policymakers.”

This year Republican and Democratic voters across the state will see eight questions apiece selected by their respective state parties. County parties also can add questions to the ballot, meaning voters in some counties may have over a dozen questions to answer.

“Because it’s the local primary, the county Democratic committee has the opportunity to put around eight or more questions on the ballot. It’s completely up to the party in each county and each has its own process,” Terry said, explaining the process in heavily Democratic DeKalb.

The issues covered can be either broad policy questions on hot-button issues or very specific ones about local matters. For example, DeKalb’s Democratic Party included a number of housing questions.

DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry.

“There were several questions on there about housing — on whether we should allow duplexes and triplexes and, in essence, more ‘missing middle’ housing,” Terry said. “In theory, those results would be shared with local leaders like myself, and if the poll shows 70% want to see missing middle housing, then the local leaders would say: ‘Wow, that’s really good information to know, because these are my primary voters who are electing me.’”

“Some of these issues are very local. We don’t need Joe Biden, Congress, or Gov. Kemp to do them,” Terry added.

However, many questions are broad questions about party values — like climate change for the Democrats, or immigration for Republicans.

Because polling is expensive, Terry said, these ballot advisory questions are an important way for politicians to take the voters’ temperature. Robinson, however, cautioned against putting too much stock in them, especially if — as he felt this year — questions were poorly formulated, or there were simply too many, which can overwhelm voters.

“I'm not going to trust the outcome of a lot of these, because the questions are worded in a way that I don't think a lot of voters even know what they're talking about,” he said. “It's much more effective to do it with just a couple of questions on things that have broad appeal, that are easily understood, that are big topics of the day — and that's not what we got this time. So I wished they had a little more editing in this process.”

Brian Robinson's 2019 induction into Grady College Fellowship

For instance, one question on the Republican ballot statewide is that Robinson felt had no practical value was: “Do you believe unelected and unaccountable international bureaucrats, like the UN controlled World Health Organization (WHO), should have complete control over management of future pandemics in the United States and authority to regulate your healthcare and personal health choices?”

One question Robinson did find interesting was asking whether the Republican primary should be closed, like it is in some states. “I think that's a question of legitimate debate,” he said.

Georgia is an open primary state, meaning that voters do not need to be registered with a party to vote in its primary. Consequently, any Georgia voter can choose to vote in either party’s primary.

This opens the primary process to voters who may want to cross party lines some years, as well as independent voters. It also allows minority-party voters in a county dominated by one party to have a say in selecting local candidates for partisan offices.

“I voted to keep the open primary,” Robinson said. “There's no evidence that there's mass crossover between parties. In fact, we know it's insubstantial — and it's important, because it's not necessarily saboteurs who cross over in order to nominate the worst candidate. … When people cross over it’s — let’s say, you're a Republican in DeKalb County who wants to vote in the county commission races.”

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