An Election Day like no other: Georgians again center of political universe Tuesday after record early voting

By: - November 7, 2022 1:00 am

The line of people waiting to cast ballots stretched around Atlanta’s Joan P. Garner library at Ponce de Leon Avenue and down the block after lunch on 2022’s last day of early voting. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

Georgians voted early this year in greater numbers than in any midterm election before, likely foreshadowing that Tuesday will require some patience from voters who might face long lines to cast ballots.

In Georgia, more than 2.5 million early voters encountered some minor glitches while in Cobb County election officials are encouraging more than 1,000 voters who were never mailed their absentee ballots to show up to the polls on Tuesday.

Election administrators and voter protection groups are prepared to keep an eye out for people trying to interfere with the voting process on Election Day – and in the aftermath leading up to certification. Election officials are bracing for threats to the voting system fueled by conspiracy theorists.

Tuesday’s pivotal election includes races for U.S. Senate, governor, congress, attorney general, secretary of state, lieutenant governor, and state Legislature. 

This election features a rematch between Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and former Democratic House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams. And Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is defending his seat against a challenge from University of Georgia football legend and Republican nominee Herschel Walker. 

Each of the four candidates is holding election night watch parties around metro Atlanta, with GOP candidates congregating at The Battery next to the Atlanta Braves’ home field. The polls predict at least a couple of close races in statewide races that could be too tight to call until at least Wednesday. And runoffs seem likely in some key races. 

Fueled by former President Donald Trump’s false claims of voter fraud after the 2020 election, county election officials across Georgia have dealt with a rise in the  numbers of mass voter eligibility challenges, a sate voting law overhaul and candidates denying the election results. And there’s also the precinct access that poll watchers have, which allows people to scrutinize the voting process. But it also creates more opportunity for abuse through voter intimidation and a platform for unfounded claims of voting fraud.  

Since the early voting period ended on Friday, more than 34 million people have voted across the nation. Georgia’s early voting numbers are up well over 20% from the previous record in the 2018 midterms, putting the election much closer to the overall record of ballots cast in the 2020 presidential election.

The Center for Election Innovation & Research say incidents of poll watchers misbehaving have been anecdotal, not widespread, over the early voting period across the country.

“It seems like a lot of voters are on edge right now and as we hear reports of attempted voter intimidation, they are very sporadic,” the center’s executive director David Becker said. “Over 30 million voters have voted in complete safety by mail or in person early or on election day, as they can in Arizona, Georgia and Michigan. 

“And there would be nothing that extremists and election deniers would like more than for voters to feel scared about whether they should vote, and they shouldn’t,” Becker said. “Voters are showing that you can vote in complete safety in this election.”

Becker said it’s important for people to set realistic expectations once the polls close since it’s normal for ballot counting to sometimes take awhile as election workers work diligently often 24 hours a day to tally the vote.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said his office will monitor everything on Election Day from an Atlanta command center with help from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the National Guard, Georgia State Patrol and cybersecurity experts.

Over 80 counties have also subscribed to a poll worker protection texting tool that can alert county and state election directors as well as local law enforcement depending on the severity of the incident.

“We think that helps assure that we have a safe environment,” Raffensperger said. “We know we have honest elections in Georgia.”

As early voting reached its final day, long lines were reported at polling stations in Atlanta and Macon, as polling stations faced the highest turnout of the three-week period.

Georgia’s voting law overhaul of 2021 added identification requirements for absentee ballots, provisional ballot restrictions for showing up at the wrong precinct, and one of the requirements to speed up the vote tabulation process is that the county must scan the absentee ballots early.

“We think that helps expedite the process,” Raffensperger said. “We’ll get those results as quickly as we can close polling locations. It’s never soon enough. I understand that, but we want to have them get those results. And we expect a very strong turnout this coming Tuesday.”

That Republican-backed 2021 voting law also spelled out that Georgians can make an unlimited number of challenges to a voter’s eligibility.

Voting rights groups like Common Cause Georgia have been working with other organizations to provide people with information about some of the changes in election law and setting up a phone hotline for voters to call for assistance.   

Common Cause Georgia executive director Aunna Dennis said that large turnout can be attributed to the resilience of Georgia voters in spite of the amount of misinformation, voter vigilantes and election deniers trying to subvert the election system.

In response to the new voting law, progressive activists had encouraged Georgians to vote in person during the early voting period rather than wait until Election Day in order to resolve any issues that may arise. In the meantime, in pursuit of “stop the steal” conspiracy theories peddled by Trump loyalists, election deniers are urging people to vote as late as possible on Election Day.

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Those groups continue to monitor what they say are systematic attempts by partisan voter monitoring groups to disenfranchise voters in Georgia. County election boards have overwhelmingly rejected attempts to block hundreds of thousands of voters whose eligibility has been questioned, but Tuesday’s voters will also face the same issue. Those challenged voters who cannot quickly resolve whatever issue is at hand will need to cast a provisional vote and come back later to prove their eligibility.

Dennis said that Common Cause has heard from voters who reported not receiving absentee ballots or not being notified in a timely manner that new provisions such as a wet signature or their ID numbers were not completed.

The idea is to have many more late voters on Election Day thwart the alleged scheme by Democrats to commit fraud because there won’t be time to pull off the deception. Election officials are aware of those attempts to delay the counting of ballots in a bid to discredit the legitimacy of the results.

Bartow County Election Supervisor Joseph Kirk said that larger counties will have multiple absentee uploads throughout the night, which  will lead to major changes in reported results because of the size of those batches. 

The new law requires a more timely posting of the results than in the past, with the first reports expected to come in soon after the polls close Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Kirk said that some delays will still be caused by the counting of overseas ballots, service member votes and people who still need their eligibility to be backed up with more identification before they become official.

“Provisional ballots are counted after Election Day, either based on actions the voter takes to show us a photo ID or other documentation or research we need to make sure that voters are actually eligible and their ballots can be counted,” Kirk said. “Challenged ballots are similar to provisional ballots and those hearings may happen after Election Day.”

A risk limiting audit will be conducted by Georgia’s counties after the election to verify the accuracy of the results. That process is designed to also see how the paper ballots compare to the results of the electronic voting system. 

There’s plenty of work to be done to make sure the election results are accurate, Kirk said.

“Calling results on election night usually works out pretty well but it can add to mistrust when we have really tight races and we may not know who wins on election night,” Kirk said. “Folks get used to the idea that they should know who won before they go to bed. And that’s simply not how elections work and never how elections worked.”

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.

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