The amendment passed in Bartow County, and had 58.32 percent of the vote statewide with 151 of the 159 counties reporting.
That means the state gets the last word on approving public schools organized by private individuals.
In Floyd County, 12,877 voted yes to the change and 18,590 weighed in with a resounding no.
Chattooga County also voted no, 4,236 to 3,202. Bartow voters favored the amendment, 18,839 to 15,673, although there were still some absentee ballots to be counted as of midnight.
The second ballot question — a straightforward amendment to let three government agencies sign multi-year contracts to get better deals on building leases — passed with 63.57 percent of the vote statewide.
In Floyd County, voters turned thumbs down, 17,071 to 13,123.
Bartow said no, 20,267 to 12,620 with some absentee ballots still uncounted.
Chattooga’s vote was closer: 3,663 in favor and 3,459 against.
There was no organized opposition.
The charter schools amendment, however, brought out organized campaigns on both sides of the issue.
It gives state appointees authority to grant operating charters to taxpayer-funded schools started by individuals, even if the locally elected school board objected.
Families for Better Public Schools raised more than $1.85 million, mostly from out-of-state conservatives devoted to school-choice initiatives around the country.
The opposition, Vote SMART! NO To State-Controlled Schools! only raised $123,000, all from within the state and mostly from school administrators and their vendors.
Before the votes were counted Tuesday, both sides were optimistic.
“We tried to focus our campaign on Georgia’s students and providing more educational opportunities so that our state can be more competitive for jobs and investment,” said Bert Brantley, spokesman for Families. “We have let charter-school students and parents tell their stories of how having a public-school option has helped their families.”
On the other hand, Jane Langley, campaign manager for Vote SMART, offered her desire that now attention would shift to other education issues.
“We hope that all the energy and money spent on this campaign can now be applied where it matters most — advocating to restore funding to the classrooms and a quality education for all Georgia children,” she said. “The winners will be all of Georgia.”
Even the wording of the amendment’s description on the ballot sparked controversy, with one group of opponents filing suit and another asking the U.S. Department of Justice to seek a voter-fraud case over it.
Political observers say it could have figured in the outcome.
“The wording will have some impact but likely not more than a point,” said pollster Matt Towery, CEO of InsiderAdvantage.
Charles Bullock, political science professor at the University of Georgia, notes that most voters don’t study ballot issues, especially when neither side has the millions of dollars needed for a television campaign to raise awareness.
“Many, I suspect, use a brief rule of thumb. If the word ‘tax’ appears in the statement, they vote against the proposal,” he said. “Beyond that, the pattern in recent years has been for amendments to secure approval. The language in the preface to the charter-school amendment can’t hurt and may improve its prospects for adoption.”
Election results showed that rural voters opposed the amendment while it won support in cities and suburbs where most of the charter schools have been organized.