The record-smashing crowds casting ballots early in battleground Georgia owe their size at least in part to people changing their minds about voting by mail after President Donald Trump and other Republicans spent months criticizing the method.
In the first eight days of voting, nearly 1.7 million Georgians voted absentee or in-person, a 142% increase from the same period in the 2016 race, state data show. Of those, more than 980,000 voted in person.
Long lines are forming at polling places across the country, including Florida, where in-person voting started Monday.
A look at the first day of voting in Georgia showed just how many ditched their mail-in ballots. On Oct. 12, about 25,000 of the 128,000 voters who swamped the state’s polling stations signed affidavits to cancel mail ballots at the same time, according to University of Florida elections expert Michael McDonald.
The trend continued all week, said officials in metro Atlanta counties and Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who asked switchers to cut it out. He said the extra time needed to cancel mail ballots was aggravating long lines.
“What I would really encourage is that the 1.6 million people who requested absentee ballots actually send them in, and not show up in person,” he said at a news conference Wednesday.
Georgia was among three Southern swing states that began voting last week. Texas and North Carolina also set records. In Texas, Harris County — home of Houston — saw as many voters on its first day as Georgia did statewide.
Both North Carolina and Texas have had fights over mail-in voting more bitter than those in Georgia. In North Carolina, where thousands of mail ballots had been kept in limbo by legal challenges, local election officials have been quietly reminding voters that they can vote early and cancel mail ballots.
But Georgia has become a must-watch state as the U.S. moves toward Nov. 3. Not only is the presidential race unusually competitive in what has been a reliably Republican state, but there are two U.S. Senate races, both too close to call.
Much to Prove
Georgia also arguably had the most to prove as voting began.
Its reputation for difficulties at the polls took hold in the 2018 gubernatorial race and were worsened this year by a disastrous June primary. Equipment failures, untrained workers and a paucity of polling places forced residents to stand in line for hours while the Covid-19 pandemic was surging.
The fiasco spurred corporate Georgia to step in. It started with the Atlanta Hawks NBA franchise, which announced after the primary debacle that it would transform its massive arena into the state’s largest early voting location and train staff to work the polls.
Other businesses kicked in, many organized by a group called GA Voting Works. They asked Raffensperger what would be needed to prevent another disaster like the primary. His answer: 3,000 trained technical workers to staff polling places, ballot drop boxes across the state, Plexiglas shields for work stations, huge supplies of sanitizer, and a robust advertising campaign to urge voters to vote early in order to reduce lines on Election Day.
The list of Atlanta-based companies and business groups that kicked in to provide those things included Delta Air Lines Inc., Cox Enterprises, Home Depot Inc., Coca-Cola and the state chamber of commerce as well as the Hawks.
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SOURCE: Bloomberg – Margaret Newkirk