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Georgians prefer most recent design of state flag

The current Georgia state flag -- preferred by voters Tuesday -- flies with the American flag over the Capitol Building in Atlanta.
The current Georgia state flag -- preferred by voters Tuesday -- flies with the American flag over the Capitol Building in Atlanta.

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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Voters in Georgia who participated in the state's presidential primary Tuesday overwhelmingly selected the most recent design of their state flag.

The non-binding referendum was held to put to rest a decades-old controversy over the inclusion of Confederate imagery on the state's official banner.

The winning design was the flag that began flying over state buildings last year, with a white horizontal stripe on a red field and a blue square in the corner containing the emblem of the state seal in gold.

The flag not chosen was the so-called "Barnes flag," named for former Gov. Roy Barnes, who in 2001 pushed through the Legislature a change in the design of the state flag, which since 1956 had contained the Confederate battle emblem in the corner. Black legislators had long objected to the design, and business leaders feared it could tarnish the state's image.

But the switch to the Barnes flag -- which contained the state seal in gold in a field of light blue -- enraged Confederate heritage groups, who demanded a statewide vote and vowed to defeat Barnes. In 2002, with the support of "flaggers" and other groups whom Barnes had rankled, Republican Sonny Perdue won the governorship after promising a flag referendum.

The Confederate heritage groups got a referendum -- but not the one they wanted. After last-minute wrangling, the Legislature decided to pit the Barnes flag against an entirely new design, not the flag with the Confederate battle emblem adopted in 1956. Perdue went along.

The new design was based on the state flag that flew before 1956, which, while also based on a Confederate design, did not contain the well-known battle emblem, a blue X festooned with white stars on a field of red. Black legislators accepted the new design as a compromise, but the Confederate heritage groups have vowed to continue to fight for the return of the 1956 flag.

If the older design had prevailed, the Legislature would have had to vote to change the flag back to the "Barnes" model.

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