by Ross Williams, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]
October 25, 2022
More than 1 million Georgians have cast their ballots early for the Nov. 8 election as of Tuesday afternoon, nearly a 70% increase over this point in the 2018 midterm election, according to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
Raffensperger, a Republican who is running for re-election against Democratic state Rep. Bee Nguyen of Atlanta, celebrated the milestone in a press conference at the state Capitol Tuesday, but he added that his office is working to head off accusations of fraud or voter suppression after facing challenges in the last two elections.
Specter of fraud allegations
“Knowing the environment we are in post-2018 and post-2020, we do expect continued misinformation and disinformation,” he said. “Unfortunately, that comes from all sides, politics being politics.”
In 2018, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams acknowledged then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp had won their race, but she said she viewed the win as illegitimate, citing issues like voters being removed from the rolls or being forced to wait in long lines as examples of voter suppression. Last month, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ruled against Fair Fight, an organization founded by Abrams, ruling that the state did not violate voters’ constitutional rights in 2018. Abrams maintains that state law allows for voter suppression.
Two years later, then-President Donald Trump refused to acknowledge his loss to President Joe Biden, and his associates launched a campaign to reverse the results in states including Georgia. He famously called Raffensperger and asked him to “find” 11,780 votes, which Raffensperger refused. Multiple recounts and investigations found no evidence of a conspiracy to overturn the election results, but Trump still says he believes he was the rightful winner.
In an attempt to nip any blooming 2022 conspiracies in the bud, Raffensperger touted resources including a texting tool for poll workers to report issues, a digital hub for real-time election data and BallotTrax, an app that allows voters to track their mail and absentee ballots through every step of the process.
“Don’t fall for any politically driven stories of either voter fraud or voter suppression,” Raffensperger said. “Follow the data. When you hear something from any politician and it concerns election administration, put it through your good sense filter. Take it with a grain of salt. Check it out. I’ve said it before. And I’m going to say it again, both the left and the right need to quit weaponizing election administration. It undermines all people’s faith in the process and in the outcome of the elections. The reality is, I would put our Georgia election system and our voter experience up against any other state in the union.”
Big numbers nationwide
Roughly 9.4 million Americans have already voted in the midterm elections, casting a combination of in-person early votes and mail-in ballots, according to data compiled by the United States Elections Project.
The initiative, headed up by University of Florida Professor Michael McDonald, shows that, within states releasing the data, 2.6 million people have voted in person while 6.8 million have returned mail-in ballots. Another 41.6 million voters have requested mail-in ballots, according to the website.
Georgia is one of the top states in terms of early voting so far, along with Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Much of that has to do with the fact that either party has a chance to win, said Gabriel Sterling, a top deputy in Raffensperger’s office.
“We are a close state now,” he said. “We saw Gov. Kemp win by 55,000 votes in 2018. We saw President Biden win by 11,779 votes — for some reason that number sticks in my head — in 2020. Every voter, Republican, Democrat and independent, understand that their vote is extremely valuable in this state.”
In Georgia, 54% of early votes so far have come from female voters and 45% from men. The state’s breakdown of race and ethnicity, something not all states disclose, shows 56% of early voters so far are white non-Hispanic and 32% are Black non-Hispanic voters.
Another 1.5% of early voters in Georgia identify as Hispanic and 1.5% as Asian American.
Kendra Cotton is Chief Operating Officer of the New Georgia Project, a group dedicated to registering Black, brown and young voters. Cotton said her group has registered 40,000 voters and will have knocked on 2 million doors by Election Day, and she’s pleased with the numbers she’s seeing.
“This is a game on the margins,” Cotton said. “We know that it is critically important for us to pull out the votes who have too often been discounted and left behind. We’re seeing people take up the mantle and make their voices heard at the ballot box, people that did not vote in 2018 and 2020.”
Members of Abrams’ campaign have said they see the high numbers of Black and new voters as a sign that they have put together a winning coalition.
But another possibility is that more Black and young voters showing up for early voting means fewer coming out on Election Day, Sterling said.
“Don’t worry about them saying you’re behind or your party is ahead, get out and vote. Even if you think you’re gonna lose, get out and vote. If you think you’re gonna win, get out and vote. That’s the important thing, plan your vote and get out and vote.”
Georgia Recorder Senior Reporter Stanley Dunlap and States Newsroom Washington correspondent Jennifer Shutt contributed to this article.
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