ATLANTA – Early turnout in Georgia’s primaries soared beyond previous milestones, signaling an energetic electorate in a newly minted political battlefield that is still the absolute zero in the national battle for voting rights, and sparking a new debate brought about an important voting law that has largely remained untested this year.
Republicans were quick to point to the early totals — more than 857,000 votes were cast in an early voting period that ended Friday, about three times as many as the same period in the 2018 primary election — to argue that the law, passed last year by the By the GOP-led legislature did not suppress the vote.
Democrats and voting rights groups said the numbers were proof that their redoubled efforts to overcome the effects of the law by leading voters through new rules and restrictions have so far paid off, ignoring any focus on overall turnout or making voting more difficult. was created or placed new burdens on marginalized groups.
It is too early to draw any firm conclusions, as the true impact of the voting law cannot be inferred from topline early voting data alone. Tuesday, when the turnout on Election Day is visible, the picture becomes a little clearer; even more evident in the days to come, when final rejection rates for absences and district-level data will emerge; and will come into full view after the November general election, when turnout will be much higher and put more pressure on the system.
The early aggregate turnout figures statewide could obscure the new law’s effects on specific groups, such as black voters, that proponents claim were targeted.
Ultimately, election experts warned that it remains unclear whether the law has made voting more difficult, whether the legislation has boosted Democrats, or whether a combination of the two is unfolding.
“Just because turnout is high doesn’t mean voters don’t have hurdles,” said Richard L. Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine. “It could very well mean that voters have overcome those hurdles, and that means that time and money has been put into efforts to ensure that voters can overcome those hurdles. And that seems unfair if those obstacles do not serve an important anti-fraud or other purpose.”
The state’s top election official, Brad Raffensperger, a Republican running for reelection, underlined his confidence in state elections under the new law, adding that he was confident that provincial election administrators would be adequately prepared for which is most likely a sharp rise in voter participation on Election Day.
“It’s been tested and it comes through with straight A’s,” he said in a recent interview. “We have a record attendance. We have record registrations and lines were short. Everything went really smoothly.”
Georgia was one of the first states to pass a new voting law after the 2020 election, when former President Donald J. Trump targeted the state with a flurry of falsehoods about the results.
Republicans in the legislature passed the voting law to address what they believed to be widespread problems with election surveillance and expanded access to ballots that could create openings for voter fraud. (Multiple recounts and post-election audits have found no evidence of meaningful fraud or other misconduct.) Other states soon followed: Last year at least 1934 passed laws that introduced new voting restrictions or changed the way elections were organized.
Democrats, civil rights groups, businesses and voting rights organizations denounced the Georgian law. President Biden called it “Jim Crow 2.0” and Major League Baseball moved its All-Star game from Atlanta in protest. But some of the public outcry has focused on provisions that were eventually removed from the final draft, such as a ban on Sunday voting (the law allows counties to vote on Sunday and added a second mandatory Saturday of early voting). .
In this week’s primaries, there are no major battles statewide for a Democratic nomination, with Stacey Abrams largely uncontested for Governor and Senator Raphael Warnock as the re-election candidate.
In the three weeks of early voting, 483,149 Republicans voted early, compared to 368,949 Democrats.
The law introduced new rules for postal voting, such as additional identification requirements and limits on how drop boxes could be deployed (although the law officially codified drop boxes as an option), but the turnout for absentee votes has been difficult to analyze until now.
In the 2020 elections, when voters cast their votes en masse because of the pandemic, more than 1.1 million Georgians voted by mail in the primaries, and in 2018 fewer than 30,000 absentees voted. This year, more than 61,000 absentees voted in the primaries, an increase from 2018 but less than 10 percent of the 2020 totals.
Primary voters also tend to be more motivated and engaged than general election voters, and are more likely to be aware of new rules and more willing to work through them to vote.
“The people who are highly engaged are the people who vote in the primaries, and those highly engaged people are often the best equipped to evade any kind of change in voting,” said Michael McDonald, a voter turnout expert at the University of Florida. .
Governor Brian Kemp, who campaigned in the final days of his Republican primary for governor, denounced Democrats for criticizing the law, suggesting that their claims that it was “oppressive” were hyperbolic and politically motivated.
“They don’t want to know what the truth is,” he told supporters in Watkinsville, Georgia on Saturday. “They don’t care what the truth is. They want to talk about the story that drives their base and helps their political polls.”
Understand the struggle for voting rights in the US
Why is voting rights a problem now? In 2020, as a result of the pandemic, millions of people have embraced voting in person or by mail, especially among Democrats. Spurred on by Donald Trump’s false claims about mail ballots in hopes of undoing the election, the GOP has pursued a host of new voting restrictions.
Kemp and other Georgian Republicans have often brushed aside Democratic criticism of the new law, noting that some provisions actually allow more voting rights than some blue states. Georgia’s new law requires a minimum of 17 days of early voting, with a county-level option for two more days through Sunday. New York and New Jersey, on the other hand, offer nine days of early voting.
But for organizers who have pushed for voter mobilization in 2020 and continue to try to expand the Georgian electorate, that work will only get harder under the new law.
On Sunday, Ms. Abrams’ campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo, in a takeaway memo about major takeaways, criticized Republicans’ celebrations of high turnout in light of the new law, saying their “stories are false, illogical and self-serving.”
“Current voter suppression and turnout are not correlated,” the memo reads.
Aklima Khondoker, the chief legal officer of the voting rights group the New Georgia Project, said she expects more confusion among voters in November. She called the suggestion that a high turnout would negate the restrictions of the law as a “gross misjudgment.”
“Organizers have increased turnout in the state of Georgia because of their hard work,” said Ms Khondoker.
In practice, there are other signs of the law. A voter in Forsyth County contested the eligibility of more than 13,000 other voters in early May, a move made possible by a provision of the legislation.
According to the organization’s spokesperson, Paul Glaze, in the months leading up to the May primary, the New Georgia Project knocked on nearly 500,000 doors, made more than 110,000 phone calls and sent more than 166,000 text messages to voters. It also distributed mailings and print advertisements in black newspapers. The message: Go out to vote.
In the state’s more than 500 African Methodist Episcopal churches, pastors and local faith leaders have encouraged voters to vote early and in person as a way to mitigate potential effects of the new law. Church leaders have also prepared a weekly voting rights notice for local preachers to incorporate into their Sunday sermons.
“This turnout is not because of SB 202, but in spite of SB 202,” said Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, who heads AME churches in Georgia, referring to the bill’s name in the legislature. He said his parishioners were “furious” at how Republicans in the state had partially justified the law by making claims of voter fraud that were later debunked in areas with large black populations. “African Americans are resilient. If you decide we can’t do something, we become more determined to show that we can.”