Georgia voters choose state flag

Tuesday, March 2, 2004

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s old debate over Confederate symbols and the state flag had gone on long enough for Jerry Deen.

"Let’s get this thing over with, put it to bed," said Deen, a car dealership owner in Albany who emerged from the voting booth Tuesday ready for the flag controversy to end.

With light turnout reported across the state, Georgians chose a state flag along with a Democratic presidential candidate Tuesday.

Many voters said they had no strong feelings about either banner on the ballot. Neither option is dominated by the Confederate battle emblem, a symbol that led Georgia lawmakers to change the state flag in 2001.

In an exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and other media outlets Tuesday, only one out of five surveyed voters said they cared more about the flag referendum than the presidential primary.

Voters chose between the 2001 flag — a state seal on a field of blue with a ribbon of historical flags in miniature — and the current state flag, which echoes a national flag of the Confederacy but doesn’t have the famous rebel "X."

The flag referendum was set up by lawmakers last year because of unrest over the first flag change. Republicans initially proposed a statewide vote between the 2001 blue flag and the Dixie version, but the Legislature ultimately adopted a new flag instead and allowed people to choose between only the two newest flags.

Both parties were urging voters to choose the current flag, saying it would settle the matter.

"It’s a good flag," said Rep. Glenn Richardson, R-Dallas, and sponsor of the flag referendum. "It represents all of Georgia, including its historical place in the Civil War."

Also pushing for the flag was the president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, Rep. Tyrone Brooks.

"I am prayerfully hopeful that the current flag will win so we can close the chapter on this long debate," said Brooks, D-Atlanta.

Southern heritage supporters insisted the flag debate won’t end because of Tuesday’s referendum. Heritage groups have called the referendum a sham because it doesn’t include the famous cross of stars. They said light turnout simply proved their point.

"The majority of Georgians have no interest in either one of these flags," said William Lathem, spokesman for the Southern Heritage Political Action Committee. "They do have interest in the 1956 flag, but that was censored off the ballot. That’s why we’re seeing this low turnout. This is not a choice."

Indeed, most voters interviewed didn’t call the flag referendum a top priority. Some even had lighthearted reasons for choosing the current flag.

"The other one is impossible to draw," said Wallace Denton, 75, a retired professor in Athens.