Black voters and students home for the holiday help drive early turnout for Georgia Senate race
Voters line up at the Ben Robertson Community Center in Kennesaw. The wait there on Monday morning lasted about 30 minutes, but other locations saw wait times of more than an hour. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder
Early voting in the U.S. Senate runoff got off to a busy start in Georgia, with more than half a million ballots cast as of Monday night, including more than 300,000 votes cast Monday.

“Just…WOW!” tweeted Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer for the secretary of state Monday night. “GA voters, facilitated through the hard work of county election & poll workers, have shattered the old Early Vote turnout, with 300,438 Georgians casting their votes today. They blew up the old record of 233k votes in a day. Way to go voters & election workers.”

Lines varied by county and precinct, with some of the busiest areas reporting waits of an hour or more over the weekend and on Monday.

State law requires counties to hold early voting Monday through Friday, but several counties got an early start ahead of the Dec. 6 election.

In all, nearly 182,000 Georgians cast a ballot before Monday, including absentee ballots, a handful of counties that offered voting as early as last Tuesday, as well as thousands who turned out over the weekend.

The state and national Republican parties fought against providing early voting on Saturday, arguing in court that state law would prohibit it since it fell two days after Thanksgiving and one day after a state holiday. But the Georgia Supreme Court ruled against them, and more than 69,000 voters cast their ballots in at least 28 of Georgia’s 159 counties on Saturday. Another 87,000 ballots were cast on Sunday.

Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is facing Republican Herschel Walker in a runoff after neither candidate reached 50% of the vote in the general election earlier this month. Democrats will maintain at least a 50-50 split in the Senate, giving them the majority with Vice President Kamala Harris as tie-breaker, but a Warnock win would give them an advantage in committee assignments and allow Warnock to serve a full six-year term.

Traditional Democratic constituencies made up a big chunk of the weekend and early voting totals, according to data from the Secretary of State’s website.

Black Georgians led the way with 84,218 ballots cast, making up 49.2% of the electorate over the weekend. With just over 2 million active Black voters, Black turnout was at 4.1% heading into Monday. White Georgians represented 35.3% of the electorate with 68,883 ballots cast, and with more than 3.6 million active white voters, white turnout was at 1.9%.

More white voters cast their ballots on Monday, surpassing the Black vote in raw numbers, but Black turnout remains higher relative to the population. With 244,000 votes cast, white turnout stood at 6.7%, and with 192,000 votes, Black turnout was at 9.4%.

Women outvoted men over the weekend – of the votes cast before Monday, 103,984 or 57.2% belonged to women, while 77,228 or 42.5% were cast by men. The numbers again evened out slightly on Monday, bringing women to 55.4% of the vote.

This could be a byproduct of the increased Black vote. While women of all racial groups tend to vote more than their male peers, the trend is more pronounced among Black women. In 2020, 66.3% of eligible Black women said that they voted, compared with 58.3% of eligible Black men, according to data from Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics. Among white eligible voters, 69.6% of women voted compared with 67% of men.

Voters in Bessie Branham Park in DeKalb reported waiting for about an hour to cast their ballots Monday afternoon. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

It may be that these numbers reflect enthusiasm among Black voters, but many of the counties that offered Saturday voting have higher than average Black populations, said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock.

“Counties that offered it were all the big Democratic counties where Democrats run up their numbers, Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Gwinnett, Clayton. Two-thirds of the ballots came from those five counties. And some of those are heavily Black, Clayton and DeKalb are, so this is clearly not a random sample of the state. Republicans chose to sit this one out, at least the first day. So yeah, these are good Democratic counties and Democrats turned out.”

“Republicans opposing the Saturday opening and then Republican counties not choosing to open once the court said that you could may have missed an opportunity,” he said.

Georgia’s youngest voters also made a good show over the weekend, but only the very youngest voters. The youngest age bracket, those between 18 and 24, represented 9.9% of the total electorate with just over 18,000 votes cast. By Monday, more older Georgians showed up, bringing the 18-24 total to 5.5% of the turnout.

But those with a few more years under their belt were far more likely to stay home. Only 3,439 of 25- to 29-year-olds voted, representing 3.3% of total turnout. Among people between 25 and 45, 28,789 people voted, making up just 15.9% of the vote over the weekend, shrinking to 13.6% on Monday.

Voters between 50 and 70 made up 46.9% of all votes cast before Monday, and their share of the vote dipped to 46% on Monday.

“The high participation rates among the 50 to 64s and people who are over 65, yeah, we regularly see that, but this higher turnout among this youngest youngest cohort, that’s the surprising part,” Bullock said.

Vasu Abhiraman, senior policy counsel at the ACLU of Georgia, said he chalks the high youth voter turnout to college students home for Thanksgiving.

“We have been contacted by so many out-of-state students about the fight for Saturday voting, they expressed that they really needed that day, that that was the one day that they would be able to vote when they were home for Thanksgiving break back in Georgia. We’re thankful that we – and I’m talking about the entire coalition – we won that fight to make sure that folks could vote on Saturday. But we’re sad that it had to take what it took. It would have been great to see the resources that went into litigating what was a weak case be spent on actually making sure that voters who voted on Saturday could vote without an undue burden.”

Abhiraman and other voting rights activists said they’re encouraged by the high turnout but miffed at the long lines reported in some parts of the state, for which they blame the shortened time frame caused by the state’s new election law as well as the effort to block Saturday voting.

“Instead of preparing for robust turnout and providing election workers with the resources they need, Georgia Republicans wasted their time—and taxpayer dollars—unsuccessfully fighting to deny individual counties the option to expand Early Voting to meet the needs of their communities,” said Fair Fight Executive Director Cianti Stewart-Reid. “While (Secretary of State Brad) Raffensperger’s determination to suppress votes has never wavered, neither will Fair Fight’s commitment to fighting on behalf of all eligible voters. The work continues.”

Given that Democrats are more likely to turn out for in person early voting, the party is hoping to bank as many early votes as possible in an attempt to create a bulwark Walker’s Election Day and absentee votes cannot surmount.

This runoff election has a number of unique factors, making it difficult to compare early turnout with other elections, but as the week continues, both parties will be watching how the numbers break down ahead of next Tuesday’s election.

“My guess is we will see something more like what we’ve generally seen, that is the Black percentage will probably drop, almost certainly will,” Bullock said. “The female percentage will drop. Both sides will be watching this very closely, because if the Black figure is above 30% 31%, 32%, 33%, once the early voting ends on Friday, that’s going to be a good omen for Democrats. If it’s 10 points lower than it is right now, say 27%, then it is going to be a good omen for Republicans.”

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.