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Columns Tom Baxter

Early voting soars as a worried electorate faces off

By Tom Baxter

How do we account for the surge in early voting, which is running close to the early turnout in Georgia’s presidential election of 2020 and nearly 60 percent higher than the 2018 turnout? It’s a combination of things, including fear.

Perhaps the biggest single factor is that no matter what or who is on the ballot, early, in-person voting has caught on and is increasing in every election cycle.

Among Democrats, early voting is coming to be viewed as not just an opportunity, but something of an obligation. Voting early, to some, is a way of guaranteeing your vote while showing that no one can tell you that you can’t. Campaigns actively encourage this, with increasing success.

There are some conservative groups, still fighting the battles of two years ago, urging Republicans not to vote until Election Day. But there are Republicans who are old enough to remember when the GOP actively encouraged its voters to cast their ballots early. They could simply be voting early and not making a lot of noise about it.

For Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the heavy early turnout is evidence the changes enacted after 2020 aren’t having the effect Democrats said they would. Stacy Abrams has countered that a big turnout doesn’t correlate directly to voter suppression: “More fish in the water doesn’t mean there are fewer sharks.”

If the Supreme abortion decision is going to cause a big increase in turnout by women in Georgia, it hasn’t shown up yet. At the same time, it’ll be a woman’s vote which decides most elections. As of Monday afternoon,
women made up 58 percent of those who have voted, only a point or two more than their share of the vote in 2018.

There is a significant change in voting by race, indicative, perhaps, of the presence of more African-American candidates in major races than ever before. African-American turnout at the beginning of the week was at an 8.5 increase over turnout at this point in 2018.

This brings us back to fear. There are process reasons why early voting should be higher this year, but fear has been the added propellant.

The word NBC News chose to describe the results of its newest poll of voter opinions was “anger,” and no question there’s a lot of that. But “fear” seems even more appropriate, when 81 percent of Democrats and 79 percent of Republicans say that the other party’s agenda poses a threat that will destroy the country if it isn’t stopped. Extreme partisanship has grown to the extent that you have to reflect for a moment to realize how extraordinary those numbers really are. They mean that four out of five of all of us, no matter the party, feel the survival of the country is at stake every election.

One finding in the national poll seems especially pertinent to Georgia this year. When Republican voters who want their party to control Congress what they would do if a candidate they supported was revealed to have a moral failure in their personal or business life, 67 percent said they’d vote for the candidate anyway. Democrats were only a little more scrupulous: 63 percent said they’d stick with their candidate.

It used to be axiomatic that negative campaigns were a drag on overall turnout. You couldn’t get more negative than the daily police log of campaign ads in Georgia’s U.S. Senate race, and yet early turnout is at record levels.

Georgia’s not alone. Early voting is up across the country this year, and the NBC News poll showed 70 percent of voters had a high interest in this year’s election, the highest number this poll has ever registered for a midterm election at this point.


Featured Image via @1eternaltourist on twitter

Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.


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