As of May 21, a record of nearly 800,000 early ballots had been cast in Georgia ahead of the May 24 primary. Some Republicans claimed the surge was a sign of success following the 2021 passage of a new voting law, but voting-rights activists said the numbers failed to show the larger picture of the obstacles voters are facing to get their votes counted in 2022. The early voting period lasted for three weeks, and lines in some places were up to two hours long.
In a statement announcing the record-high early voting, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) said, “The incredible turnout we have seen demonstrates once and for all that Georgia’s Election Integrity Act struck a good balance between the guardrails of access and security.”
Also known as SB 202, that 2021 act added new voter identification requirements for absentee (mail-in) ballots, empowered state officials to take over local elections boards, limited the use of ballot drop boxes, and made it a crime to approach voters in line to give them food or water.
In the wake of SB 202, voting rights organizations including Black Voters Matter and the League of Women Voters (LWV) worked statewide to educate Georgia voters about the new rules. “The high early vote turnout shows that this message has been heard by voters,” said Susannah Scott, President of the Georgia Chapter of LWV, in a May 23 interview with CNN. However, Cliff Albright, Executive Director of Black Voters Matter, said the turnout rate might obscure the number of Black voters who were discouraged by the new rules. Black voters make up about one-third of Georgia’s voting-age population.
It remains to be seen how many voters opted to vote by mail and whether the surge in early voting will balance out the vote-by-mail numbers. Some voters also believe any suppression is felt more in rural areas of the state, where voter intimidation may be more frequent.