By Errin Haines
The Associated Press
ATLANTA - The contest to choose Georgia's new license plate is starting over after confusion about whether the motto "In God We Trust" would be on the winning design, state officials said Friday.
Gov. Nathan Deal had been set to unveil the new license plate at the Capitol, but instead told reporters he was postponing the selection.
"After getting some feedback on the way the contest was conducted, we're going to reopen the voting on the final eight contestants in the license plate design contest," Department of Revenue Commissioner Doug MacGinnitie told reporters. "Because of some confusion on what the final look would be, as far whether there would be a county or 'In God We Trust' at the bottom, we're going to reopen the voting for the next three weeks."
More than 400,000 votes were cast during the online voting period, which began June 24 and ended July 8. Those votes will be scrapped and online voting will reopen Monday.
MacGinnitie said the brouhaha has created buzz around the license plates, which could attract more input from the public.
"That's a good thing for the state," he said.
More than 500 design entries were submitted by the public, and a panel of Georgia college and university art professors narrowed the selection to eight. An online public vote picked the top three, each of which featured a peach.
Some of the designs presented online contained the motto "In God We Trust" while others did not. The motto is actually an optional sticker that may be purchased for an additional dollar at county tag offices. Neither the county name nor the motto will be displayed online on any of the design finalist entries.
Jerry Luquire, president of the Georgia Christian Coalition, said he didn't understand the drama.
"Some people will never be clear on anything," he said. "Some people are offended that it's even an option. They don't want it available. I think optional is great. I know some conservative groups who wanted (the motto) applied to the license tag without option. I think that's wrong."
MacGinnitie said Georgia law states that license plates have to display either a county name or the "In God We Trust" label at the bottom. He acknowledged that his office may have contributed to the confusion over whether the motto would be part of the new design.
"We heard back from a number of individuals and different parties from around the state, and in an abundance of caution, we want to make sure everybody feels like it's a fair process," MacGinnitie said.
Attempts to reach the Atlanta Freethought Society on Friday for comment on the issue were unsuccessful. The group seeks to educate the public about the separation of church and state.
He also addressed claims that people were allowed to vote on the designs more than once. MacGinnitie said Friday his office is doing "what we can to make sure people only vote one time."
The state will begin issuing the plate next year.