New state flag flies with voters

By Billy Corriher

Georgians turned out in low numbers for Tuesday's state flag referendum but those who did vote chose the current state flag, a banner that echoes a national flag of the Confederacy but not the controversial Confederate battle flag.

Three out of four voters statewide wanted the current flag to remain, while only 25 percent voted for the 2001 flag created by former governor Roy Barnes.

In Clayton County, almost 70 percent of the voters cast their ballot for the current flag.

With all precincts reporting in the county, the new flag had 15,927 votes to 7,227 for the Barnes flag. Statewide, the new flag was winning with 440,819 to 149,258 with 82 percent of the districts reporting.

The Barnes flag did not carry a single one of the state's 159 counties.

Advocates of the 1956 version based on the Confederate battle flag were still angry that their choice was not on the ballot and are still looking to make the state flag an issue in the November elections.

Without the controversial 1956 flag on the ballot, many voters said they had no strong feelings about either flag on the ballot. The other choice, the blue flag approved in 2001, included the 1956 flag in a ribbon of miniature historical flags below the state seal.

The flag referendum was set up by lawmakers 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 banner instead and allowed people to vote on only the two newest flags.

Doris Shedrick of Jonesboro said she cast her vote on Tuesday for the 2003 flag because she didn't like the design of the 2001 flag.

"(The 2003 flag) looks more like a flag," she said. "It kind of looks like an American flag."

Both Republicans and Democrats 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 supporting the current 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.

Jonesboro resident Harvey Harris said he also hopes the controversy over the state flag is over, and he hopes the current flag stays in place.

"I don't like all those symbols on the bottom (of the 2001 flag)," he said.

And Harris said that although he doesn't support the 1956 flag, he felt it should have been on the referendum.

"The governor promised during his campaign that we could vote on that flag," he said. "I think it would have been good to let the people decide."

Charles Johnson of Jonesboro echoed Harris' disappointment with the choices for state flag and said he didn't vote for either flag.

"I knew (the 1956 flag) wasn't going to be on there, that's why I didn't vote for either one," he said.

Southern heritage supporters insisted the flag debate won't end because of Tuesday's non-binding referendum. Heritage groups have called the vote a sham because it didn'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."

Many governmental offices and schools have waited to order the new flag to see if it would pass the test of the voters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.