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Dear Decaturish – Georgia Voters Easily Silenced

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Dear Decaturish – Georgia Voters Easily Silenced

State Sen. Elena Parent.

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Dear Decaturish,

This morning, Georgians awoke to the news that Ohio voters have approved Issue 1, a constitutional amendment safeguarding reproductive rights, including abortion. This move in Ohio sent a resounding message to Republican leadership that Ohioans insist on access to reproductive healthcare and that a licensed physician, not a state legislative body, determine their care. In the wake of yet another conservative-leaning state securing reproductive freedom as a constitutional right, many in Georgia ponder why they lack a similar voice.

The answer lies in the fact that Georgians do not possess the capacity to place initiatives on the ballot without the support of their elected representatives, as codified by Georgia law.

After going to the ballot box, Georgians have a rocky road to directly influencing key policy decisions until the next election. Two key measures available in 26 states, referenda and ballot initiatives, are not permitted in Georgia. This means Georgians have no recourse when elected officials prioritize the views of a limited portion of the electorate over the majority. This has enabled the Republican majority in Georgia to deny reproductive healthcare and abortion access from women, resulting in dire and potentially deadly consequences. This occurs without the concern that voters could potentially override these decisions on a specific issue. This is despite the views of the majority Georgia voters, not because of them.

When the extent of a voters’ power is restricted to electing a candidate, rather than directly voting on ballot initiatives, responsiveness to the broader electorate becomes exceedingly difficult. In Georgia, a constitutional amendment is required to permit citizen-led ballot initiatives or referenda. The obstacle in the amendment’s path is the state legislature itself, with the law mandating a two-thirds legislative approval for any ballot measure. This requirement is difficult even in the best of times, and in today’s polarized political climate, passing any ballot measure on a highly controversial issue between the two major parties seems next to impossible. Senate Democrats have introduced legislation proposing a citizen vote on abortion access. I have also filed bills allowing for a citizen-led ballot initiative process. To date, there have not been enough Republican legislators in the Georgia General Assembly willing to join Democrats in passing either measure, rendering the prospects for a ballot initiative guaranteeing reproductive care access akin to Ohio’s recent victory seemingly remote.

At this moment, Republicans are enjoying their time in sole control of the legislature. Democrats must work to energize the electorate, and the electorate must realize where the weight of their power lies. For now, the most effective course of action for voters is a commitment to participate in every election, even when the choices might not be perfect. Politics is the art of compromise. Assessing the potential advantages and disadvantages of selecting one candidate over another commences with the voter.

— State Sen. Elena Parent, District 42

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