The Georgia primary has seen a surge in early voting, with a record number of ballots cast ahead of Tuesday’s contests.
While Republicans claim it is a sign of success following the passage of new voting laws that Democrats and others warned would restrict ballot access, voting activists say the surge does not reflect the larger picture of the challenges voters face this year in getting their votes counted.
According to GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, nearly 800,000 ballots had been cast as of May 21 during the three-week early voting period. He claimed it was a record and attributed the success to SB 202, the 2021 voting law.
“The incredible turnout we’ve seen demonstrates once and for all that Georgia’s Election Integrity Act struck a good balance between access and security,” Raffensperger said in a statement announcing the results.
SB 202 mandated new voter identification requirements for absentee ballots, gave state officials the authority to take over local election boards, restricted the use of ballot drop boxes, and made it illegal to approach voters in line and offer them food or water.
Activists claim that the so-called success is the result of their efforts. Several voting rights organizations, including Black Voter Matter and LWV, have been educating voters about the new rules across the state. Setting up hotlines, establishing grassroots educational networks, and holding weekend voter turnout events have all been part of the work.
According to Cliff Albright, executive director of Black Voters Matter, the turnout rate does not reflect Black voters who have been discouraged by the new rules. Activists warned that the new laws would reduce Black voter turnout, which accounts for roughly one-third of the state’s population.
A record 1.3 million Georgians voted absentee in 2020. The rules for absentee voting have since changed. While anyone in Georgia can vote by mail without an excuse, voters must now provide their Georgia driver’s license or state ID number, as well as other identifying information such as their birth date, when applying for a mail-in-ballot application. Those who do not have the required ID forms can use other documents such as a utility bill or bank statement.
What remains to be seen is how many voters voted by mail this time, and whether the surge in early voting will compensate. Georgia election officials will not begin counting mail-in ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day, and voters will have three days to fix any problems with their ballot so it can be counted.
According to some voting rights organizations, early voting numbers show that voters are taking the safer route to casting a ballot.
“My impression is that voters are unsure how changes to voting laws will affect them and have chosen to vote early to ensure that they have time to address any issues that may arise while there is still time,” Scott said.
Some voters believe that the suppression is more pronounced in rural areas such as Griffin, Georgia, an hour south of Atlanta. Voter intimidation is more common in the town, according to Dexter Wimbish, an attorney.
Wimbish, who participated in a recent Saturday “Souls to the Polls” event in Griffin, told CNN that even the presence of Stacey Abrams and US Sen. Raphael Warnock on the ballot will not mitigate the impact of the new laws.
“I don’t think that the fact that we have two excellent candidates like Stacey (Abrams) and Senator Warnock is going to mitigate the protracted efforts by those on the other side to limit people’s ability to vote without any restrictions,” Wimbish said.
One new rule prohibits people from giving food or water to voters who are waiting in line. Rain is expected, and people may want to hand out ponchos, according to Paul Glaze, communications manager for the New Georgia Project.