Absentee ballots have been available to Georgia voters for the past two weeks, and more than 1,300 Columbia County voters have already taken advantage of the opportunity to vote or request ballots for the Nov. 7 General Election.
There are four local contested races in Columbia County. Because of early voting, we'll make recommendations in those elections in the Sunday, Oct. 29 issue of The News-Times. That's a week earlier than our traditional endorsements that in the past appeared on the Sunday before an election.
In addition to recommending candidates, The News-Times on Wednesday will offer analysis and recommendations on the pending $43 million bond referendum, in time for Thursday's meeting at which county officials will again discuss the proposal.
Today, in response to inquiries from readers, we offer recommendations on the three state constitutional amendments and the six statewide referenda on each ballot. Those questions often are confusing, and voters seeing them for the first time in the voting booth can be overwhelmed.
After giving the questions the amount of study they deserve, then, here are our suggestions:
Proposed Constitutional Amendments
1. To Restrict the Use of Eminent Domain. YES
This amendment is a fig leaf by Georgia lawmakers stung by their attempt, in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision, to actually make it easier to seize private property. After statewide backlash, lawmakers pulled an about-face and proposed a constitutional amendment to make the practice more difficult, as it should be.
2. To Protect the Traditions of Hunting and Fishing. YES
This amendment is rooted in good sense. The fear of animal "rights" activists working to outlaw animal harvests is real, even though it's pretty far-fetched in Georgia.
3. To Authorize the General Assembly to Dedicate Revenue from Special Motor Vehicle License Plates. NO
A little trickier, perhaps; this amendment allows special tag revenue to go to non-profit groups, not just to government agencies. The eventual argument over who qualifies would seem to open a Pandora's box that should just as well stay shut.
Proposed Statewide Referenda
A, B, C and D. To Expand the Ad Valorem Tax Exemption (for specific farm equipment, veterans organizations, charitable institutions and senior citizens). NO, NO, NO and NO.
All four exemptions sound nice on the surface and are certain to pass. But they shouldn't - all three provide targeted tax exemptions that will shift a heavier burden to all other taxpayers.
E. To Provide a Homestead Exemption for the Surviving Spouse of a Peace Officer or Firefighter Killed in the Line of Duty. NO
This item also is sure to pass, what kind of cold-hearted voter will say no to such a thing? But such tax goodies shouldn't pass, because it's a foot in the door to what will certainly be more feel-good, special-favor exemptions that will put more of a burden on other taxpayers.
F. To Provide That a Surviving Spouse Shall Be Entitled to a Continuation of the ... Homestead Exemption. YES
Finally, one that makes sense. The spouse would be required to re-apply for the exemption the following year after a spouse's death, so a stop-gap exemption is humane.
The most important response to all of these questions is the one any individual voter makes. Elections Director Deborah Marshall predicts that only 35 percent of the county's voters will cast ballots. We can do better.
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