Georgia sees record early voting turnout despite voter suppression claims
National spotlight turns to Peach State, where Republicans running in high-profile primaries have come under fire for backing election reform law.
A record number of people voted early in Georgia's primary elections before polls opened on Tuesday, undermining accusations leveled by President Biden and other critics that Republicans in Georgia suppressed votes through a controversial election reform law passed last year.
News of the surge in early voting came as two of the most prominent Georgia Republican backers of the voting law — Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — prepared to face off in high-profile primaries against challengers endorsed by former President Trump, who also supported the law but argued the incumbents didn't do enough to expose election fraud in the 2020 election.
More than 857,000 people cast ballots during an early voting period that ended Friday, according to the Georgia Secretary of State's office. That number represents a 212% increase over 2020, the last presidential primary, and a 168% increase over 2018, the last gubernatorial primary.
Allegations of voter fraud and other irregularities in the 2020 election led Republicans in Georgia to pass the Election Integrity Act, which Kemp signed into law in March of last year.
The law implemented several reforms in Georgia meant to protect election integrity and prevent fraud, including requiring voters to provide identification to receive an absentee ballot. The state has required a voter to show a government-issued photo ID when voting in person since 2008.
The law also expanded early voting across the state through various measures, such as additional weekend voting days, and mandated secure drop boxes be placed inside early voting locations with surveillance.
Critics, primarily Democrats, have decried the election changes as voter suppression tactics targeting minorities.
Stacey Abrams, for example, accused the law's authors of "reviving Georgia's dark past of racist voting laws." Her group Fair Fight Action Inc. has taken legal action against Georgia Republicans' voter integrity rules, saying they violate the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.
Abrams, a liberal activist who's running unopposed for the Peach State's Democratic gubernatorial nomination, said over the weekend that Georgia under GOP control is the "worst state in the country."
Biden has echoed Abrams's claims of racism, describing the Election Integrity Act as "Jim Crow 2.0," a reference to the laws that enforced racial segregation in the South.
"It adds rigid restrictions on casting absentee ballots that will effectively deny the right to vote to countless voters," Biden said shortly after the reforms were signed into law. "It must end. We have a moral and constitutional obligation to act."
In January, Biden accused Georgia Republicans of "subverting the election" and intentionally making it more difficult for people to vote.
Some of these same voices are now saying the record early turnout figures aren't due to the Election Integrity Act.
Abrams' campaign manager, Lauren Groh-Wargo, released a memo on Sunday chastising those who attributed the high turnout to the voting law, saying their "narratives are false, illogical, and self-serving."
"Modern-day voter suppression and voter turnout are not correlated," the memo read.
Groh-Wargo and other left-wing voter mobilization activists have instead credited concerted Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts for the high turnout, arguing Democrats have worked hard to help voters overcome new GOP-created rules and restrictions.
"President Biden, Stacey Abrams, and their allies spread disinformation about Georgia's election law," Raffensperger told Just the News. "Now, record early voting turnout has proved what I said from the beginning: Georgia's Election Integrity Act struck a good balance between access and security."
Kemp similarly called out Democratic critics of the election law.
"They don't want to know what the truth is," Kemp told supporters at a campaign event on Saturday. "They don't care what the truth is. They want to talk about the narrative that drives their base and helps their political polling."
In addition to crafting the voting reform law, Georgia Republicans have taken other steps in response to the electoral chaos of 2020.
Raffensperger has opened a criminal investigation into allegations that activists engaged in illegal ballot harvesting — a tactic, outlawed in most states, in which third-party activists gather and deliver voters' ballots.
Proponents say the practice is important to ensure voters who don't have easy access to outgoing mail or need extra help to get their ballots delivered can have their votes counted.
Critics argue ballot harvesting allows third parties who have a stake in the outcome of an election — such as members of campaigns and political parties — to have access to voters and their absentee ballots in an unsupervised setting. Such a practice, they argue, opens the door to potential fraud, intimidation, and other forms of coercion.
Raffensperger's GOP primary opponent, Rep. Jody Hice, recently described the Election Integrity Act as "a great step in the right direction" but argued Raffensperger has been too weak on combatting voter fraud.
Kemp's opponent, businessman and former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, has similarly backed Georgia's election reform measures while slamming the Kemp administration for opposing Trump's challenges to the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia and not sufficiently enforcing election laws.
"[Kemp] was secretary of state for nine years, he's been governor for four," Perdue said during a recent gubernatorial debate. "During that period of time, he has not prosecuted anyone for voter ID fraud. It sounds good that he's got a new bill, but you don't enforce the law before when he was secretary of state or governor now, what makes us trust that he will enforce this law."
Hice and Perdue are both endorsed by Trump.
The latest polling shows Kemp comfortably leading Perdue, while the contest between Hice and Raffensperger is close.
Trump has reportedly distanced himself from Perdue's campaign, seeing little chance for victory based on the polls. However, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin campaigned for Perdue last week, and even if Perdue gets fewer votes than Kemp on Tuesday, that won't necessarily mean he lost.
If no candidate wins 50% of the vote, then a run-off election will be held next month between the top two vote-getters, who in all likelihood will be Kemp and Perdue in the gubernatorial race.
One local issue in the governor's race that's received national attention is Kemp striking a deal to dole out $1.5 billion in incentives to electric vehicle startup Rivian for it to build a $5 billion manufacturing plant east of Atlanta that will create 7,500 jobs.
Kemp has touted the deal as the biggest economic development project in Georgia history. However, Perdue and other critics have criticized the state for shielding details of the project from the public and making a deal with a company that has struggled to meet production expectations and seen its stock price plummet in recent months.