Published March 02, 2004
ATLANTA – Georgia voters, apparently tired of arguing over the Confederate battle emblem (search) on the state flag, overwhelmingly choose to keep the current banner Tuesday.
The three-stripe flag adopted by the Legislature last year was endorsed in a statewide referendum, a vote pitched as a way to settle Georgia's decades-old flag debate.
"Let's get this thing over with, put it to bed," said Jerry Deen, a car dealership owner in Albany who emerged from the voting booth saying he was tired of all the bickering of what should be on the flag.
With light turnout reported statewide, the red, white and blue flag was approved by a 3-to-1 margin.
The winning flag was adopted by lawmakers last year as a compromise. It closely resembles the national "Stars and Bars" (search) flag of the Confederacy but does not include the more-famous battle cross of stars.
The referendum didn't include the version dominated by the Confederate battle emblem that flew over the state from 1956 to 2001. Instead, the voters' other option was the flag that replaced the Dixie version three years ago, a blue banner featuring the state seal and a ribbon of five historical flags.
Lawmakers set up the flag referendum last year because of unrest over the 2001 flag change, but they ultimately decided not to allow people to vote on the rebel "X" that sparked threats of economic boycotts.
When the Legislature removed the Confederate emblem from the ballot, public interest in the vote nearly disappeared.
"Quite frankly, we have more important things to worry about," said Sen. George Hooks, D-Americus, who helped design the current flag. "People realize we finally have a flag that unifies the state."
Many voters said they considered only the aesthetics of the two flags. The 2001 flag was voted the nation's ugliest by a national flag association the year it was adopted.
In an Atlanta neighborhood, attorney Mark Kelley said it came down to a decision on which design was least embarrassing with the Confederate battle emblem removed from the flag.
The 2001 flag, he said, "looks like a Stuckey's placemat. It makes me hungry, but not patriotic."
In an exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and other media outlets Tuesday, only one out of five surveyed voters in Georgia said they cared more about the flag referendum than the presidential primary.
Southern heritage supporters insisted the flag debate won't end because of Tuesday's referendum. Heritage groups have called the referendum a sham because it doesn'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 (search). "They do have interest in the 1956 flag, but that was censored off the ballot. That's why we're seeing this low turnout. This is not a choice."
Indeed, most voters interviewed didn't call the flag referendum a top priority. Some even had lighthearted reasons for choosing the current flag.
"The other one is impossible to draw," said Wallace Denton, 75, a retired professor in Athens.