Georgia voters who pulled a Republican ballot in the May 24 primary overwhelmingly said Buckhead residents should be able to vote whether to break off from Atlanta to become their own city and create their own police force in response to rising crime rates.
Republican primary voters from the state’s 159 counties were asked several party questions intended to gauge support on certain topics. Question No. 8 asked, “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?”
More than 860,000 votes, or 80%, of the roughly 1 million cast for this question answered “yes,” according to unofficial results from the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. In Fulton County, where Buckhead is located, nearly 53,000 voted in favor of the question, or 81%, according to unofficial results.
There are nearly 65,000 registered voters in Atlanta City Council Districts 7 and 8, which make up Buckhead, according to Fulton County registration data.
The Buckhead City Committee, the group pushing for cityhood, is “ecstatic with the results,” according to its spokesperson. But a representative for the Committee for a United Atlanta, which opposes Buckhead de-annexing from the city, said the non-binding vote from Republican residents across the state do not reflect what voters in Buckhead and Atlanta want. The group also plans to release a poll perhaps as soon as this week that shows most Buckhead voters want to stay in Atlanta.
The cityhood question was put on the primary ballot by Republican state lawmakers after legislative leadership this year quashed a movement to give Buckhead voters a chance to decide on creating their own city.
Bill White, chair and CEO of Buckhead City Committee, the group pushing for cityhood, said the 80% vote in favor of Question 8 is a “clear, resounding message to their elected officials to allow Buckhead City the right to vote.”
“And we look forward to doing that next year,” White said.
But how does a statewide question pressure lawmakers to give Buckhead voters the opportunity to vote on cityhood?
“You’ve got to work from top down, bottom up,” White said.
“Who is going to vote on the Buckhead City referendum? It’s Buckhead,” he said. “But who gives the people the right to vote on any city? It’s the legislature. Who votes in the legislature? The voters across the state.
“If 80% of voters across the state say put that on the ballot, that’s a message to the legislature to put it on the ballot. The legislature is controlled by the Republicans and the Republican voters sent a whopping, resounding, unequivocal message to their elected officials [to] give Buckhead City their right to vote,” he said.
Billy Linville, spokesperson for the Committee for a United Atlanta, which opposes Buckhead de-annexing from the city, said the question was general and nonspecific.
“And it in no way captures the situation involving Atlanta and Buckhead, nor does it reflect the views of the residents of Buckhead,” he said.
Linville also said the committee is expected to release a poll soon that shows more than 60% of Buckhead residents want to keep Atlanta united.
In Cobb County, voters rejected three cityhood referendums that were supported by Republican lawmakers who put them on the ballot.
— Maggie Lee helped with this story.