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1 million vote early in Georgia, a dramatic increase from 2018

A voter casts their ballot as early voting begins on Oct. 17 in Atlanta. (Megan Varner/Getty Images)

STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. — For weeks, Georgia’s Democratic and Republican parties had urged voters to cast their ballots as soon as possible instead of waiting until Election Day. Voters apparently listened.

More than 1 million Georgians have voted early, a dramatic increase from the last midterm election in 2018 and nearly on pace with the 2020 presidential election, according to the Georgia secretary of state’s office.

Early-voting centers opened across Georgia last week, and the vast majority of voters cast their ballots in person. Mail-in-ballot requests have fallen significantly from past election cycles.

Of the many states running primaries or runoffs on May 24, Georgia took center stage. Here’s what you need to know. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

While every demographic and region of the state has seen elevated turnout relative to 2018, there has been a surge of participation from women, Black voters and voters over age 50, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. The increases have been largest in the Atlanta region, while many counties in the state’s southwest and along the southeast coast are far outpacing their early vote counts from 2018. Cobb County, a fast-growing suburb of Atlanta, crosses both trends, having counted more than three times the number of ballots collected at the same point in 2018.

Analysis: The early electorate in Georgia looks more like 2018 than 2020

Early voting is underway in several other states, although most of them don’t release as much data as Georgia.

In Virginia, more than 411,000 people have voted so far, surpassing the total number of people who voted early in 2018, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. In North Carolina, more than 530,000 voters had cast ballots in some way as of Monday, down from 590,000 at this time in 2018, although early voting was offered for more days during that election.

In Texas, about 550,000 people have voted, according to the state elections office. At this point in 2018, more than 695,000 people had voted in Texas, showing a stark drop-off in engagement between midterm elections.

In Georgia, about 17 percent of the voters who cast their ballots early had previously waited to vote on Election Day in 2018, while another 17 percent of this year’s early voters didn’t vote in the last midterm election, according to the website GeorgiaVotes, suggesting high enthusiasm and early engagement. The numbers also underscore how voting patterns have changed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and new voting laws in the state.

“It’s only been four years, but the demographic transformation of the state has been quite rapid,” said Bernard L. Fraga, a professor of political science at Emory University who studies election law and voter turnout patterns. As Georgia’s population, political environment and laws have shifted, voter behavior has followed suit, Fraga said.

Georgia lawmakers enacted a sweeping voting law last year that added requirements and restrictions for casting a provisional or mail-in-ballot, leading many voting rights groups to worry that those voting methods were too cumbersome for many voters and vulnerable to legal challenges.

Expand access? A historic restriction? What the Georgia voting law really does.

“Communities of color may think they have to turn out and mobilize for fear that something could happen to their vote,” Fraga said, while “some White, more Republican-leaning voters who would have turned out early may be waiting to vote on Election Day because of these voter-fraud narratives” espoused by former president Donald Trump and his allies.

But most Republican campaigns in the state also want their supporters to vote early. Georgia Republican leaders warded off Trump from rallying in their state for fear that his false claims of voter fraud would cause loyal GOP voters to lose trust in the election process and not cast a ballot.

The early engagement has excited many Democrats, who see it as a sign of a successful mobilization.

“This was always our intention — to create a big Week One — and then to continue to build that,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, the campaign manager for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams.

Groh-Wargo said the campaign had expected voters who participate in every election to do so in the first week, allowing groups to focus on reaching voters who traditionally vote on Election Day or skip voting altogether.

Republicans also say they believe the high voting numbers will benefit them. They have touted the turnout as a sign that accusations of voter suppression in Georgia by Democrats are unfounded.

“While Stacey Abrams continues to spread the myth of voter suppression in Georgia, the 2022 general election has seen another record turnout so far,” said Tate Mitchell, the press secretary for Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who is running for reelection.

Abrams has pushed back against such criticism. On Monday, she praised the “extraordinary turnout” while arguing that “suppression is about barriers. If those barriers are not completely successful, the credit does not go to those who erected the barriers. The credit goes to those voters who found a way to navigate, overwhelm and overcome those barriers.”

In interviews with more than four dozen Georgians who voted early at six polling locations in the greater Atlanta area last week, nearly all said they usually vote early but were especially eager this year to cast their ballots as soon as possible.

Tonya Stevens said she had a “refreshing” experience voting early in Clarkston, Ga. While she said she had encountered long lines and mismanagement from poll workers in the past, she had a smooth experience casting her ballot. Stevens said she was excited to vote for Abrams “because she’s a hard worker and believes in rights for all citizens.”

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Joseph Dickinson said it was “extremely easy” to cast his ballot in Forsyth County, north of Atlanta, during the first week of early voting. Dickinson, 33, said he found it more difficult to vote in neighboring Dawson County during the 2020 presidential election because of the coronavirus pandemic. While normally a libertarian voter, he said, he voted for Republicans this year “because Georgia’s done pretty well. I feel good about it.”

Many counties in the Atlanta region had little to no wait times at most polling locations, according to county elections and registration offices’ tracking sites and statements to The Post, in sharp contrast to recent cycles, when many voters waited multiple hours to cast their ballots. Some elections and registration centers, however, showed waits of up to an hour on some days this past week. Georgians can vote early at any polling place in their county, but they must vote at their respective precinct on Election Day.

“In Georgia, a lot of people think that the vote is being suppressed. And I think personally, it’s just the opposite,” said Nora Culver, a conservative and a dental office manager from Stone Mountain, Ga., who voted early on Friday. Culver, who supports the new voting law, said: “One of the controversies has been that you couldn’t accept food or drink in line. Well, who does that anyway? Nobody wants food. I mean, just stupid things.”

Kayla Smith, a graduate student from Atlanta, said that while she voted by mail in past elections because of her studies, this year she returned to her home county to ensure her vote was counted properly. “I wanted to physically see my ballot get cast,” she said.

Smith, a recent Spelman College graduate, said that with multiple competitive races on the ballot, she was excited to support Democrats, especially Abrams, also a Spelman graduate, and Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D), who attended neighboring Morehouse College.

“I do see the power of voting,” Smith said. “We know what the stakes are this time. And I think that’s been a common theme in voting since 2020.”

Bronner reported from Washington.

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Key issue: Abortion rights advocates scored major victories in the first nationwide election since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Here’s how abortion access fared on the ballot in nine states.

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