With 1 more day of early voting in Ga. runoff, turnout stays strong
AUGUSTA, Ga. - With only one more day of early voting in the Georgia runoff for a Senate seat, the turnout continues to stun election officials.
By 5 p.m. Wednesday, state election officials reported that more than 1 million ballots had already been cast.
In fact, demand has been so high that people in some areas of the state have had to wait in long lines. For example, wait times in Fulton County have surpassed two hours.
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Early voting ends Friday, then Election Day is Tuesday for conventional voters.
The runoff pits incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock against Republican challenger Herschel Walker. Neither passed the threshold of needed votes in the November election, leading to the runoff.
In Richmond County, 23,874 people have cast early ballots so far. The total in Columbia County is more than 11,314.
Long lines stir controversy
Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer of the Secretary of State’s Office, has felt heat on social media over the voting lines, which are mainly in the Atlanta area.
“We have layer upon layer upon layer of problems,” said Anthony Michael Kreis, a constitutional law professor at Georgia State University.
Kreis said recently passed legislation has created “unnecessary burdens” for Georgia voters.
“This is not a policy failure, but it’s an intentional design of the state law, SB202, which makes it harder to vote,” Kreis said.
Kreis points to a tighter timeline as an explanation for the record-breaking turnout.
“Yes, we have record-breaking turnout, but we have record-breaking turnout because the state has given voters fewer options and has pressured people to make choices they may not otherwise make,” he said.
Sterling stands by the state’s election process.
“The polarizing environment we have, everybody wants to attribute everything in the election administration to some kind of nefarious political maneuver. It’s not,” he said.
“Everybody is just doing the best they can with the resources they have to serve the voters of Georgia under the law,” Sterling continued.
Sterling said early voting is a convenience and voters should do their due diligence and check wait times ahead of time where applicable before heading to a polling place.
Kreis said state lawmakers should consider reverting the runoff schedule back to a longer timeline or consider a ranked-choice voting system that would eliminate the need for in-person voting in a runoff.
“And then voters don’t have to come back a second time and we don’t have to have a compressed time schedule that we do for this runoff,” Kreis said.
Essentially a ranked-choice option, which other states have implemented, asks voters to rank their preferred candidate in the case of a runoff on their general election ballot.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the pace far exceeds the number of voters who cast ballots in the runoffs of 2018 and 2016.
“Georgia’s voting system is working well,” Raffensperger said. “While some counties are seeing more voter turnout than they anticipated, most have found a way to manage voter wait-times, and I appreciate the election officials and workers across Georgia who are doing their level-best to accommodate our record turnout.”
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