Voters sue Gov. Deal over deceptive charter school ballot question

Beverly Hedges, a Dalton teacher, and the Rev. Timothy McDonald, senior pastor at First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, filed a lawsuit today in the Superior Court of Fulton County asking for a declaration that the ballot language presented to voters for Amendment 1 is purposely misleading. Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp are named in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that Gov. Deal intentionally used ballot language that does not accurately reflect the enabling legislation passed by the General Assembly. In fact, Gov. Deal used language in the Amendment 1 preamble that had been presented and debated by the General Assembly but failed to pass. Gov. Deal used confusing and deceptive language because a majority of Georgia voters would not approve Amendment 1 if it were accurately described.

“Georgia voters have the right to vote on ballot questions that are fair, objective and non-partisan,” said Rev. McDonald. “Instead, they will walk into the voting booth and face a question that is misleading. This is exactly what Gov. Deal intended.”

The language presented to Georgia voters is as follows:

Provides for improving student achievement and parental involvement through more public school options.

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?

According to recent polling, the deceptive and slanted preamble language is expected to shift voting results on the Amendment 1 by as much as 10 percent.

“Gov. Deal knows that the truth about what Amendment 1 will do is not popular with Georgia voters, so he wrote a trick question and placed it on Georgia ballots,” said Bryan Long, executive director of Better Georgia. “The question voters will see sounds like a miracle solution for fixing Georgia’s troubled school system. It’s not. It’s an open invitation for out-of-state charter school corporations to profit from Georgia tax dollars. It will create a new, costly and unelected state commission with the power to use tax dollars to pick which companies will profit off our students.”

According to the lawsuit, these are a few ways the ballot language is misleading:

  • The ballot language states that the amendment is necessary for “state and local approval of public charter schools,” but the Georgia Constitution and state laws already permit charter schools.  Even if a local school board denies an application for a charter school, existing law includes an appeal process to the state.
  • The ballot language speaks to “public charter schools” and the preamble to “improving student achievement and parental involvement,” but the amendment actually allows for the creation of a third public school system.  This new public school system lacks any direct accountability to local voters, parents and officials and will drain state money that would otherwise go to local school systems.
  • The preamble uses a bold font, larger than the actual language passed by the General Assembly, to promote a biased and unsupportable promise of “improving student achievement” and increased “parental involvement.” The enabling legislation contains no provisions for these statements.

“Gov. Deal wants voters to approve an amendment that will benefit only some schools that his hand-picked commission will choose, but he has done everything in his power to make sure voters don’t know this will be the end result of a ‘Yes’ vote,” said plaintiff Hedges. “We are hopeful the courts will stand on the side of Georgia voters.”

Gerald Weber, of Atlanta, is the attorney for Hedges and Rev. McDonald.

Download the press release: Media Release (PDF)

Download the formal complaint: Lawsuit (PDF)