Nearly half a million Georgians have cast their ballots in the midterm elections through three days of early voting, according to Georgia’s secretary of state, blowing past the previous record three-day totals in 2018 and keeping pace with a historic 2020 turnout in the presidential election.
"One of the bigger surprises ... was the huge turnout in early voting," Greg Bluestein, a veteran Atlanta Journal-Constitution journalist who wrote a book on Democrats turning his state blue in 2020, said earlier this week on his newspaper's politics podcast. "I expected the turnout to be high, but the levels we're reaching here in Georgia are reaching presidential levels".
Bluestein added: "Just the rush of attention, the early energy towards casting their ballots, it shows that ... there's tremendous energy out there that could change the calculus for a lot of these campaigns."
Georgia has a number of consequential races on the ballot this year, including a marquee Senate race between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, as well as between Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams.
While the high turnout has surprised many political experts, a number of diverse grassroot organizations say the enthusiasm reflects their yearslong commitment to voter turnout efforts.
“I'm not surprised by the numbers, just because of what we're hearing from those on the ground,” Nicole Henderson of Progress Georgia, a political digital and communications hub for progressive groups around the state, told Yahoo News.
“Our field teams have knocked on over 750,000 doors since Aug. 1 and are on track to hit a total of 1 million doors by Election Day," said James Mays, field deputy director of the New Georgia Project Action Fund. “Georgians are hitting the polls energized, motivated and more than anything, resolved to make their voices heard.”
Through Wednesday, 434,567 Georgians had already voted — 396,332 in person and 38,235 by absentee ballot — a figure 44% higher than in 2018, according to Georgia Votes. By this point in 2020, just over 410,000 Georgians had voted in person. Presidential-year elections like 2020 typically draw far more voters than midterms.
"A lot of people up here in Washington will be watching those early vote numbers very closely in Georgia, because it certainly can give us some insight into how motivated the voters are for the November elections,” Washington columnist Jamie Dupree said on the Journal-Constitution's podcast about the early-voting numbers. “The fact that turnout on the first day was almost what it was in a presidential election year tells me that we will see a very active final three weeks.”
Black and Hispanic voters, in particular, make up 36% of the ballots received thus far. The high early voting numbers are exciting Democrats, who historically have larger early voting turnout than Republicans, although many of the votes are also undoubtedly for GOP candidates. More than 4 million people will likely vote in this year’s midterm election, with at least half of those voters expected to vote early.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger issued a statement on Wednesday touting the overall numbers, which he said occurred “without any reports of substantial delays.” He attributed the turnout to “the hard work of Georgia's election workers, the professionals who keep our elections convenient and secure."
Yana Batra, an 18-year-old college student and a leader in the group Georgia Youth Justice Coalition for Action, said her classmates frequently speak about the election. She cited issues like women’s reproductive rights and school censorship.
“As a first-time voter spending my time reaching neighbors and peers, it’s clear Georgians are fired up to make history yet again,” said Batra. “We know this election matters.”
Progressive activists nevertheless cautioned about alleged voter suppression efforts, particularly after Kemp’s signing of SB 202 into law in March last year. The “Election Integrity Act” cut runoff periods in half, from nine to four weeks, placed limits on who can turn in absentee ballots and enacted a partial ban on offering food or water while waiting in line to vote. It also restricts the use of drop boxes, which historically, have overwhelmingly been used by voters of color.
“A part of the conversations that we have at the doors isn't just talking about the issues that are at stake, but we're also doing really mindful voter-protection efforts,” Hillary Holley, executive director of Care in Action, told Yahoo News. “We've also done so much work to teach voters how to overcome these obstacles that have been put in place post 2020.”
Cover thumbnail: AP Photo/Jerome Delay