Record early voter turnout in battleground Georgia

Fulton County voters leave an early voting site located inside C.T. Martin Natatorium and Recreation Center In Atlanta, Georgia, Wednesday, May 18, 2022. (Alyssa Pointer for NPR)

Georgians seem to be embracing the state’s political battleground status as they’ve been showing up at early voting locations this week in unexpected record numbers.

“It’s gone past our initial expectation,” said Gabriel Sterling with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.  “We knew it would be high. We knew it would beat 2018. We did not expect it to rival 2020.”

As of Friday morning, more than 600,000 ballots had been cast in the midterm elections, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.

While the vast majority of the people who already voted do so on a regular basis in Georgia elections, there’s a significant number of new early voters.

“There’s about 15% that were election day voters in 2018 and 15% new voters. I’m giving you big round numbers on this,” Sterling said.  

Officials say high early voter turnout is a good sign that election day voting on Nov. 8 will run smoothly as polling places will likely be less busy.

Political insiders and campaigns are trying to read trend lines in the early voter turnout, as the election in Georgia may be less decided on the issues and more on who will show up at the polls. 

Georgia has a little over 7 million registered voters. Fifty-three percent of them are white, and 29% are Black. Eight percent did not identify a race. Ten percent are other minority groups.

And which demographic is more motivated to vote could make a big difference for Democrats, according to University of Georgia political scientist Dr. Charles Bullock. 

“The two elements here are the share of the white vote a democrat needs to attract and then the total share of all votes cast by African Americans,”  he said.

Bullock calls it the 29/29 formula. First a Democrat needs to get at least 29% of the white vote, and African Americans need to turn out to vote. 

“So if Blacks cast about 29% of all votes, then those two elements come together that usually is just sufficient for a Democrat to win in this statewide contest,” Bullock said.

So far in early voting, African Americans make up a third of all voters.

With the overall winning margins in recent races very slim, the turnout of Asian American and Latino voters could also make a difference, but their early voting totals so far are just 2.6%.