As partisan divides sharpen, early voting takes root
By Tom Baxter
Georgia’s primary election day is next week, but one result is already clear. Whatever reservations they may have about other voting innovations, voters have gotten hooked on early in-person voting, and they aren’t going back.
At the end of last week, the early voting totals were twice what they were on the same date two years ago and three times the total on the same date four years ago. Absentee voting by mail has slowed with receding worries over COVID and the institution of new restrictions, but the explosive growth of early in-person voting seems to represent a permanent change.
One reason voters may be more open to early voting is that more often these days, their minds are made up well in advance of the election. There’s a growing partisanship between Republicans and Democrats, but within the parties themselves there’s been a hardening of allegiances so that even in primaries like next week’s, choices are being made earlier.
Nobody planned it this way, but early voting stretches out the workload for local election officials who have been strained to the limit. If all this year’s early voters were required to show up next Tuesday to vote, the result in many polling places would be chaos.
As you would expect with all the money and attention focused on the Brian Kemp/David Perdue grudge match, the Republican primary is leading the Democrats with about 58 percent of the total absentee and in-person early votes cast. Maybe the heavy turnout is evidence of pro-Trump voters who haven’t been counted in the polls, which would be great news for David Perdue.
Without information we don’t have yet on where these votes are coming from, it’s hard to say, but it appears the bump in early voting turnout is just part of the general evolution in voting habits. As of Sunday, a total of 237,031 votes had been cast in the Republican primary and 176,592 in the Democratic primary.
That means that in a primary in which the candidates for Senate and governor have already been selected, Democrats cast more than 20,000 more votes than both parties had cast by this point in 2020. This not only puts the Republican turnout in some perspective but attests to the speed with which Georgians are moving to early voting.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution did some number crunching and found that about 16,000 of the people who have voted in this year’s Republican primary voted in the Democratic primary in 2020. Frankly, given the interest factor in the Republican primary, it’s a bit surprising this number wasn’t even higher. It was also surprising to see a Democrat quoted who crossed over to vote for Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger, such was his enduring hatred for Trump. When Perdue can’t get marauding Democrats to vote for him, he’s got troubles.
The move to early voting has already changed political strategy to some extent and is likely to have an even greater impact if the trend continues at this pace. The closer ad — that full face, from the heart moment in which the candidate gives his final pitch — no longer matters as much. An increasing percentage of voters will have cast their ballots before the closer hits the screen.
Early, door-to-door organizing will be more important than ever, and scandals that come to light late in campaigns may have a diminished impact. It still will matter to keep pushing until the last polls have closed on Election Day, but it won’t matter quite as much. In the long run, the biggest challenge posed by spreading out voters’ options is keeping them focused on casting their ballot at some point, and not letting their civic obligation float by.
Maybe the strong early turnout is a harbinger of an even bigger than expected turnout on Election Day. What we do know is that they’ve been paying attention, that a sizeable number of voters in both parties have already had their say, and soon they all will.