MARIETTA, Ga.—With a contentious governor’s race on the ballot, early voter turnout in Georgia is up substantially in the first few days compared with the same period in the previous midterm.
About 296,500 Georgia residents had cast ballots by late Wednesday, either at a polling station or via mail. During the same period in 2014, about 100,400 Georgia residents had voted, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office.
The governor’s race is dominating Georgia’s elections this year. Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican, faces against Democrat Stacey Abrams, a former House minority leader seeking to be the first African-American woman to serve as governor in the U.S. Ms. Abrams has accused Mr. Kemp of using various tactics to suppress voting by minorities and called for his resignation. Mr. Kemp, whose office oversees elections, denies the charges and says Ms. Abrams is a radical who has strong support among illegal immigrants.
The race, which recent polls show is neck-and-neck, is drawing national attention, with both parties sending leaders to stump. Former President Obama endorsed Ms. Abrams, and President Trump endorsed Mr. Kemp.
Mr. Kemp and Ms. Abrams have battled for years over voting rights, long before either announced a run for governor. Despite allegations of voter suppression, Georgia’s active voter registrations have increased in recent years. An automatic voter-registration change on a state driver’s license form has brought in hundreds of thousands of new potential voters since 2016, The Wall Street Journal recently reported.
High early turnout doesn’t necessarily equate with high total turnout, but it indicates both parties have canvassed aggressively to get committed voters to the polls early, freeing them up to focus on undecided voters on Election Day, said Chris Grant, a political science professor at Mercer University in Macon.
“It’s up everywhere, which suggests to me that both sides are doing really, really well,” he said.
Some early voters in Cobb County, a suburban area northwest of Atlanta, had to stand in line for several hours before casting their ballot, in part because the county has only one early polling place this week. The county, with a population of 756,000, was traditionally a Republican stronghold, but its demographics are shifting, with more minorities and younger people moving in. In 2016, Mr. Trump won the state, but Democrat Hillary Clinton carried Cobb County.
Alejandro Aguilar, 22 years old, of Kennesaw, waited with a friend for more than three hours Thursday. Mr. Aguilar said he was voting for the first time and planned to cast a ballot for Ms. Abrams and send a message to the Republican Party that he opposed their immigration policies.
“I want to put a halt to this,” he said. He added that when he was younger, he didn’t think his vote mattered, but now believed enough votes can bring change.
Jack Michelitch, 77, who voted with his wife Thursday, only had to wait about 20 minutes because voters over 75 are given preferential treatment at the voting station. Mr. Michelitch, who voted for Mr. Kemp, said he often votes early, but this year the crowds are large because the state is so polarized.
“People want to make sure their side is counted,” he said.
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