If Georgia primary was an attempt at voter suppression, it failed badly

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There clearly were major problems with the voting in Georgia’s primary election on June 9.  Voters experienced long lines and wait times at some polling locations, especially in metro Atlanta and especially in some precincts with large numbers of African American voters.  There were numerous reports of equipment failures, inadequate numbers of voting machines, missing poll workers and poorly trained poll workers. There were also reports that many voters who requested absentee ballots never received them and had to choose between not voting and braving the coronavirus pandemic to vote in person.

In the aftermath of the problems at the polls, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and other Democratic leaders have accused Georgia’s Republican secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, of deliberately seeking to suppress Democratic turnout. Despite all of the problems, however, it now appears that — thanks largely to a record number of voters casting absentee ballots — overall turnout in this year’s primary election was very strong and Democratic turnout was through the roof.

In 2018, both parties had gubernatorial primaries, and turnout was 555,000 in the Democratic primary vs. 607,000 in the Republican primary. This year, even though there were no contested statewide contests on the Republican side, almost a million voters cast ballots in the GOP Senate primary and almost 1.2 million voted in the Democratic Senate primary. That’s an increase of more than 120 percent in the number of Democratic primary voters and more than 60 percent in the number of Republican primary voters compared with 2018.

This year, for the first time since 2008, more voters took a Democratic primary ballot than a Republican primary ballot. In the Senate primary, 53 percent of voters took a Democratic ballot — and this does not seem to have been a result of the absence of a contest on the Republican side. In the Seventh Congressional District, where the Republican incumbent is retiring, there were hotly contested primaries in both parties, and 57 percent of voters took a Democratic primary ballot. Likewise, in the Sixth District, the Democratic incumbent, Lucy McBath, was unopposed while Republicans had a contested primary to choose her challenger; yet 58 percent of voters chose a Democratic primary ballot.

The bottom line is that, despite all of the problems at the polls on Tuesday, it appears that there was a big increase in turnout over 2018, especially on the Democratic side. And the turnout in this year’s Democratic Senate primary blows the 310,000 votes cast in the 2016 Democratic Senate primary out of the water. There were nearly four times as many votes cast in this year’s Democratic primary as in 2016.

Far from suppressing the vote, the decision by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to mail every registered voter an application for an absentee ballot and to encourage Georgians to vote by mail resulted in a surge in turnout, especially among Democrats.

The high turnout in this year’s primary doesn’t excuse either the secretary of State or county election officials for the problems that occurred on Election Day. Much work remains to be done to ensure that Election Day voting goes much more smoothly in the runoff election in August and especially in the general election in November. The number of voters then will be far greater than in the primary.

However, it is clear from the results of the primary election that the best way to avoid major problems on Election Day and to ensure a high overall turnout is to encourage as many voters as possible to vote by mail before Election Day.

Alan Abramowitz is the Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science at Emory University and the author of “The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation and the Rise of Donald Trump.”

Tags Absentee ballot Brad Raffensperger Donald Trump Elections Georgia Georgia Primary Lucy McBath Postal voting Stacey Abrams Voter suppression Voter turnout Voting

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