FOREST PARK — State elections officials will neither confirm nor deny that they are investigating whether the city of Forest Park is electioneering on a ballot measure inside the polling place by handing out an informational flyer.
Asked whether an investigator would check into the matter in person, spokesman Walter Jones said, “We will have to investigate, and then the investigators would make a recommendation to the State Elections Board which ultimately makes that determination.”
Jones could not say whether the city was in violation of state election law.
“Our policy is not to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation during voting,” Jones said.
State election code says that “No person shall solicit votes in any manner or by any means or method, nor shall any person distribute or display any campaign material, nor shall any person solicit signatures for any petition, nor shall any person, other than election officials discharging their duties, establish or set up any tables or booths on any day in which ballots are being cast within 150 feet of the outer edge of any building within which a polling place is established; within any polling place; or within 25 feet of any voter standing in line to vote at any polling place.”
On Nov. 5, as voters made their way past sign-waving candidates into the no-electioneering zone and into the polling place at the Recreation Center, they were greeted by a teenager handing out a flyer from the city promoting the freeport exemption ballot measure. A copy of the green flyer also was posted prominently on the wall next to the voter registration check-in tables.
The flyers the teenager placed in voters’ hands as they entered were on the counter to the left of the gymnasium entrance and appeared to be within 25 feet of the voter registration tables.
The city has called its printed piece an “informational flyer.” However, the information on the flyer implies only why voters should favor passage of the freeport exemption — no possible reasons to oppose its passage were listed. The flyer has been handed out at the past few City Council meetings and also was mailed to city residents last week by Better Letters, a Stockbridge direct-mail company, according to the U.S. Post Office.
Some examples of the flyer’s wording include:
♦ “City Voters must approve Freeport”
♦ “Freeport matters to fulfillment centers who provide goods to consumers that order goods via the Internet”
♦ “Freeport is a component in retaining jobs & attracting new business investments to places like the Gillem Logistics Center here in Forest Park”
♦ “Forest Park industry & jobs are at a competitive disadvantage”
♦ “The fewer jobs or industry, the greater the likelihood that taxes must go up or City services must be reduced”
♦ “Most Georgia counties offer Freeport”
Under “What Should Voters Do?”, the flyer includes the disclaimer “The City may not advocate for or against the referendum” and a call to action: “Residents interested in Freeport should vote in the municipal elections on November 5.”
City officials have pushed voters to consider the measure at recent public meetings. At Monday night’s City Council meeting, City Manager Angela Redding urged voters to turn out and vote on the issue.
“Voting is tomorrow, November 5th at the recreation center, 803 Forest Parkway from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and so we have a citywide referendum, which is on the freeport exemption. And so all the residents, all registered voters, you can come out and vote on this, a freeport exemption, even if your councilman is not up for re-election. So again, it’s citywide. If you need additional information, we do have flyers on the table in the lobby.”
Elections Supervisor Lois Wright also took to the podium during public comment to reinforce that message.
“I sent a little flyer out to try to break it down so everybody can understand. It’s not just for Wards 3, 4 and 5, it’s citywide. (Wards) 1 and 2, I need y’all out to come and vote on that question, that referendum, so pass it around to your neighbors.”
After decrying the city’s low voter turnout, Wright again urged voters citywide to cast ballots on the measure: “It’s very critically important that we get that referendum voted on. For people to vote on the referendum. They need to understand that. So tell Wards 1 and 2, please pass that along.”
A freeport exemption is a tax break for distribution warehouse companies. Proponents argue that giving warehouse companies the chance to do business in Forest Park without having to pay ad valorem property tax will bring jobs to the city. Opponents object to giving large out-of-state corporations a license to do business at a discount that other taxpayers and local businesses must make up. The city’s flyer notes that a company granted such an exemption would still pay other taxes.