The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Georgia’s primaries were a victory for democracy

A voter picks up an "I Secured My Vote" sticker after casting a ballot at a polling location in Atlanta on May 24. (Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg)
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Elections often produce mixed messages, but that wasn’t the case in Tuesday’s Georgia primaries. Peach State voters made a loud and clear statement: Democracy is alive and well.

This is most obvious in the state’s raucous Republican contests. Former president Donald Trump intervened in a host of races with the intent to punish the Georgia GOP establishment that had refused to overturn the 2020 election on his behalf. He recruited high-profile challengers to the two biggest “villains” in his twisted tale, Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. He also endorsed little-known challengers to the incumbent attorney general and insurance commissioner, all to replace the existing Georgia Republican leadership with his minions.

The state’s GOP voters had other ideas. They turned out in record numbers to repudiate Trump’s attempted party coup. Kemp beat his foe, former senator David Perdue, by a whopping 52 points, winning every one of Georgia’s 159 counties. Trump’s candidates for attorney general and insurance commissioner were also walloped, with the incumbents each breaking 70 percent of the vote.

Even Trump-backed candidates for the U.S. House fared relatively poorly. Former Democrat Vernon Jones and Jake Evans made it into the runoffs in their races, but neither broke 25 percent of the vote. Both are likely to lose when GOP voters reconvene next month.

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Raffensperger’s outright victory was the piece de resistance in this unceremonious defenestration. Against predictions, Republicans gave a majority to the man who stood up to Trump’s direct pressure in 2020 and refused to “find” 11,000 votes to change the state’s election results. The vote’s regional breakdown is even more revealing. Raffensperger’s challenger, Rep. Jody Hice, only won counties in or near his congressional district. Raffensperger won almost everywhere else, reaching close to 50 percent in rural Georgia and crushing Hice in the Atlanta area, where he won every county with as much as 68 percent of the vote. This is the same place where Trump really lost the state two years ago.

Georgians also dealt a stinging rebuke to another set of people lying about the state of Georgia’s democracy: progressives who claimed Georgia’s new voting law was “Jim Crow 2.0.” Any fair reading of the law, passed over vociferous Democratic objections last year, would conclude that its provisions would not lead to widespread voter suppression. But that didn’t stop the left — from President Biden on down — from beating the false narrative that Georgia’s GOP would prevent Black people from voting.

That, predictably, did not happen. Republican turnout skyrocketed from the last gubernatorial primaries in 2018, nearly doubling from 607,000 votes to nearly 1.2 million. But more telling is that Democratic turnout also surged, even though the party did not have competitive primaries for either governor or senator. More than 714,000 people voted in Tuesday’s Democratic senatorial primary, compared with 553,000 in 2018’s seriously contested gubernatorial race. That’s a nearly 30 percent hike — far out of character in a year that has often seen declining turnout in Democratic races.

Clearly, advocates were spewing nonsense over the past year as they stoked fears and fanned racially tinged flames. Those unwilling to face the truth might find isolated incidents of voters facing obstacles to cast ballots to trumpet, but that’s exactly what Trumpist election truthers do: blow up anecdotes or easily explained administrative foul-ups into an unfounded conspiracy theory. More telling is what one Black voter, who believed the scare stories, recently told The Post: “To go in there and vote as easily as I did and to be treated with the respect that I knew I deserved as an American citizen — I was really thrown back.”

No democracy is perfect, because people are imperfect. Some stray people will cheat, and some election administrators will mess up. But American democracy works because people are overwhelmingly honest, and the administrators are overwhelmingly competent. That’s what happened in 2020 when Trump lost, and that was on display Tuesday night when Georgians of all colors and parties swarmed to the polls to render their verdicts.

This unambiguous finding is a ray of sunshine for a gloomy nation. Our democratic system is sound, if we still want it to be. Georgians told the nation Tuesday that they still love democracy. Let’s hope voters across the country hear that message and similarly rise up to defeat those selling election snake oil, left and right.