Early Voting

As Georgia voters go the polls on Tuesday with the question of who to put in the Oval Office and the U.S. Senate Chamber looming heavy over their heads, they will also face four additional questions at the end of the ballot.

These four questions are amendments up for popular vote in Georgia, and much like the presidential race, they have not been without controversy.

There has been quite a bit of commotion over the first, however all of the ramifications for how Georgia plans to forge its identity going forward.

Amendment One 

Amendment One, perhaps the one with the most buzz surrounding it, asks voters if the state constitution should be amended to "allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?”

Should the amendment be accepted, “chronically failing schools” will be inducted into the Opportunity School District if they fail to meet a meet a College and Career Ready Performance Index score of 60.

Up to 20 schools could be inducted into the Opportunity School District every year, with no more than 100 schools participating at any given time. Schools in the program would follow the direction of a governor-appointed superintendent instead of the local school board, and could be closed as an “intervention of last resort” if they do not meet enrollment capacity.

The amendment, supported by Gov. Nathan Deal, has received uproar over what many view as oversight on the part of the state government. Education has typically been organized at the county or local level, and only regulated by the footsteps of the state.

John Knox, a geology professor at the University of Georgia and recently-elected member representative on the Clarke County Board of Education, has been a vocal opponent of the amendment, calling the amendment, in some sense, a perversion of the way education functions in Georgia.

In an interview with The Red & Black, Knox said local Athens students would be affected should the amendment be accepted.

“For our students in the education program... at schools, locally, it might have an effect,” Knox said. “Certainly it might have an effect on [Gaines Elementary School], since that’s the one in our area that’s ‘chronically failing.’"

Amendment Three

Amendment Three has also presented some controversy, primarily for its lengthy and confusing wording.

Teena Wilhelm, an associate professor at UGA’s School of Public and International Affairs, said the amendment would replace the state’s current judicial watchdog organization, the Judicial Qualifications Commission, with an organization made up of members appointed by the state legislature.

“Currently, the JQC is fairly independent and not tied at all to the legislature. The governor appoints members,” Wilhem said, “But this would obviously be a move that would make it more tied to the state legislature and thus probably more controlled.”

Andy Owsiak, one of Wilhelm’s colleagues in SPIA, expressed his confusion as to the reason for the push to re-align the JQC under different jurisdiction.

“Those committees can make mistakes, but in general they do pretty well. I haven't seen specific problems with the one in Georgia," he said. "The only explanation I can see is that the legislature wants more control over the oversight of judges, and this makes it much more direct."

He went on to compare the JQC with other independent groups at various level of government.

“This happens with things in the federal government. There is some oversight, where the idea is to make it independent in some way," he said. "That's the issue here. You're trying to make it independent of the political process, and if you make it part of that process then politicians can exploit it for personal gain."

Jeffrey Pope, a senior psychology major, said when he voted in an absentee ballot last week, he was immediately drawn to the negativity of the proposal.

“I remember reading it and just thinking, ‘This doesn't entirely make sense, but it cant be good,” he said.

Pope said he voted against the amendment, citing concern over “basic branches of government: judicial, legislative, and executive, all which exert checks on each other, yet function independently.”

Owsiak said in general, “the opposition to [the amendment] seems to be really extensive.”

The two remaining amendments have not faced as much controversy as the others.

Amendment Two

Amendment Two would create a safe harbor fund for sexually-exploited victims of human trafficking, imposing harsher penalties on convicted criminals and increased taxes on the adult entertainment industry.

"This is an interesting way to get extra funds to assist children, but to vote in favor of something like this, I would want to be certain, number one. the funds go to those people and can't be redirected elsewhere, and number two, that the people who are being levied the punishment are somehow related to the crime," Owsiak said.

Amendment Four 

Amendment Four, if approved, would “dedicate revenue from existing taxes on fireworks to trauma care, fire services, and public safety."

Nathan Shelp, a sophomore environmental engineering major from Dawson, thinks the amendment would help people in Georgia by funding a good cause.

Shelp said the amendment is “pretty logical, because it's a good way to use money that goes towards potentially hazardous things in a more beneficial way to society."

"I'm sure the fire department could use the money," he said.