BUCKHEAD, Ga. — Voters across Georgia will be able to weigh in on whether Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood should become a city during the primary election in May, but the results may not change much.
Buckhead City Committee leaders said the ballot question on cityhood will be presented on the Republican primary ballot, adding the party has decided to ask its voters across the state this "advisory question." The committee has been efforting to secede from Atlanta, citing the city's high crime rate and calling cityhood an opportunity to lower taxes.
“We are very much looking forward to receive this important feedback from our fellow Georgians across the entire state. We often hear how Buckhead has lost so many visitors as families tell us they no longer feel safe coming from Athens, Blue Ridge, Gainesville and across the state to celebrate, dine, shop and visit for special family occasions or even for business. The results of this ballot question will be even more significant to share for the GA Legislature as they decide putting Buckhead City on the ballot for May or November 2023," Buckhead City Committee CEO Bill White said in a news release.
Though Buckhead is in Fulton County, The Georgia Republican Party clarified that Republican voters beyond county limits will be able to weigh in on the matter.
"The ballot advisory questions will appear on every Republican primary ballot throughout the state," GAGOP Press Secretary Dani Repass said in a statement to 11Alive.
The ballot initiative comes despite the General Assembly's decision to not take up the issue this legislative session, essentially shooting down Buckhead's opportunity to officially secede from Atlanta any time soon.
"If it’s a cheap sales pitch that you vote for the city and crime goes away, all of us know that that’s not true," Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan, previously said about the issue, adding that cityhood wouldn't solve the problems supporters have been touting.
The issue on the ballot will have a similar effect, 11Alive's political expert Andra Gillespie said.
"So having this straw poll, for all intents and purposes, on Buckhead is not binding," she said.
Gillespie pointed out the data from voters could be used to revisit efforts and reframe the fight to make Buckhead its own city, so the question if anything could provide statewide information for the committee or other cityhood movements.
"It certainly could be deployed and used later to, you know, either revive the Buckhead secession movement next session or to talk about other cityhood movements which have been going on in Metro Atlanta for the better part of the last 20 years," she said.
However, Gillespie said the data won't be sound.
According to the committee pushing for Buckhead cityhood, the May 24 ballot question will read:
“Crime has dramatically increased throughout the country including in our capital city of Atlanta. Should the citizens of residential areas like the Buckhead community of Atlanta be allowed to vote to create their own city governments and police departments?”
"The issue with the question, as it is worded, is that it is in fact leading," Gillespie said.
She added the sentence before the actual question will prime voters.
"It's going to set a particular mindset that could actually influence choices later," she said. "From a scientific standpoint, if I just wanted to ask people what they thought about the cityhood movement, I would just ask a question about cityhood movements -- I would leave Atlanta out, I would leave any discussion about crime out."
Though the efforts to make Buckhead its own formal city seems relentless, Gillepsie shed light on the political payoff it could have for Georgia's GOP.
"The cityhood movement that we have seen formulate in the last 20 years, and particularly in metro Atlanta, have benefitted from Republicans controlling the state legislature," Gillespie said. "You know, these were things that weren't successful when Democrats controlled the state legislature. But this is something that Republican legislators have supported and voted for and Republican governors have signed so there can be referenda to create."
Gillespie advises when voters head to the polls this May to think critically about the question and to consider what is motivating their answer.
"You didn't need this referendum to create the city of Sandy Springs, or Dunwoody, or South Fulton," she said. "These things were happening on their own."