ATLANTA (CN) — Early, in-person voting began Monday in Georgia where Republican Brian Kemp, currently Georgia’s secretary of state, and Democrat Stacey Abrams are vying to succeed Nathan Deal as the next governor.
With over 6.8 million voters now registered and Georgia’s all-time voter registration record broken, the election is already notable. If Abrams wins on Election Day, she will make history by becoming the first-ever black female governor in the United States.
From Now until November, voters in all 159 Georgia counties will be able to cast votes at polling places each weekday and on at least one Saturday during the early voting period.
Early voting has proven to be exceptionally popular in Georgia in recent years. In the 2014 election, early voting accounted for 37 percent of turnout. During the 2016 presidential election, 58 percent of voters chose to vote early.
According to recent polls, the two candidates for governor are in an exceptionally tight race. An October 9 poll conducted by the University of Georgia for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta’s WSB-TV found Kemp leading Abrams 47.7 percent to 46.3 percent.
In the same poll, just 4 percent of the 1,232 voters polled said they were still undecided.
Those who have made up their minds seem to be particularly energized. Over 52,000 absentee ballots have already been mailed in, twice as many as were sent in at the same point in the 2014 midterm elections.
Requests for absentee ballots are 131 percent higher than they were in the 2014 election, according to state officials. It is believed that so far, black voters accounts for 42 percent that have been received to date.
An analysis from GeorgiaVotes.com, which compiles data from the Secretary of State’s office, shows that requests for absentee ballots prior to the start of the in-person early voting period were 131 percent higher than they were in the 2014 election.
An analysis of voters’ demographic data performed by Michael McDonald, who runs the United States Elections Project at the University of Florida, found black voters accounted for 42 percent of all absentee ballots cast as of October 1. That’s a good sign for Abrams, who has worked to encourage minority voter turnout throughout her campaign.
According to Dr. Kerwin Swint, a Kennesaw State University political science professor, any edge Abrams might gain during mail-in voting may continue into in-person early voting but it won’t guarantee her a win on November 6.
“The pattern we’ve seen in the last few years is the democratic candidate does really well in early voting and the Republican candidate catches up on Election Day. That’s been the trend in Georgia over the last two to four years,” Swint said.
“The real question is, to what extent will Republicans show up?” Swint added.
But for some voters, a decision to vote early isn’t necessarily an indication of enthusiasm for either candidate.
Barbara Kruse, a 67-year-old retired human resources consultant from Atlanta’s Morningside neighborhood, plans to mail in her ballot but says she’s still struggling with her decision.
“I haven’t completely decided. I’m waiting for more information to hopefully get at some real truth. I’m displeased with the candidates and the commercial tactics,” she said.
“Everybody is blaming the other person with wild, bizarre claims that are not really on the money. It seems almost hysterical, some of the comments I see on the commercials. I feel that from both sides, so that’s part of the problem with making up my mind,” Kruse said.
Others, like 46-year-old Cesar Sotomayor, have found themselves compelled to vote due to Kemp’s close relationship with President Trump.
The president endorsed Kemp during the Republican primary in July, tweeting that Kemp is “tough on crime, strong on the border and illegal immigration.”
Sotomayor, who emigrated from Peru at the age of four, admitted he doesn’t typically vote in midterm elections but felt that the race between Kemp and Abrams is particularly “polarizing.”
“I am going to vote Democrat,” Sotomayor said. “It’s mostly a vote against Kemp. I’m not a big Trump fan and I think he’s going to campaign for [Kemp] in a couple weeks. The anti-immigration thing is a big deal for me.”
“I think this is an important election, I think part of it is a referendum against who’s in office as president,” Sotomayor continued. The more of [Trump’s] people that win, the more the country seems to be accepting of what he stands for. The more of his people that lose, maybe they’ll realize they’re not doing the right thing,”
Tracy Kirch, 59, referred to Trump and Kemp as “two peas in a pod” and admitted that she views her vote for Stacey Abrams during the early voting period as a vote against Brian Kemp.
“I have a certain amount of faith in [Abrams] as an individual, but no matter what, I don’t care who it is, if she’s a Democrat, I’m voting for her,” Kirch, a self-employed dog walker who lives in Atlanta’s North Lake area, said.
Recent polling reveals that Abrams has a lead with women of 50.4 percent compared to Kemp’s 41.4 percent. Nearly half of men said they viewed Kemp favorably, while only about 40 percent of women do.
Abrams also currently has a lead of 52.3 percent with independent voters, who made up about 10 percent of the poll’s demographics, and moderate voters.
Jenny Williams, a 37-year-old architect who identifies as a moderate centrist, said she’s looking for balance when it comes to picking a candidate.
Williams said she finds the election “a little bit overwhelming” and said that while she typically votes for third-party candidates, she “like[s] the idea of Stacey Abrams.”
“We’ve got to get some balance,” Williams said. “But maybe my vote should not be moderate this time because there is such extremism going on. We’ve got to get extreme to find some middle road and force people to work together.”
Although many voters seem to acknowledge the significance of the race between Kemp and Abrams, that feeling is tempered by misgivings about the pace of change in Georgia and recent allegations of voter suppression.
“I definitely want my voice to be heard despite the fact that I have little belief my voice is heard,” Cee Cee Weeks, a 26-year-old pre-school teacher, said.
Weeks expressed concerns about disenfranchisement and voiced her disapproval of Georgia’s “exact match” law which caused 53,000 voter registration applications to be put on hold by the Secretary of State’s office.
She said she’s considering voting early to ensure that her vote is properly recorded.
Forty-one-year-old Diana Bubes, who says she’s more concerned about gerrymandering and systemic racism as factors that affect elections than voter suppression at the polls, has doubts about how much change she can expect from this midterm election.
“I think the potential impact of this election is both big and little,” Bubes said.
“I think there’s a minority of people who consider themselves to be the majority. I think it’s important to show who the majority really is. I think voters in my cohort lately have gotten the millennial tag, like we’re kind of apathetic, we’re really loud about what we think but not active in terms of making a change. I think this election is important in that sense,” Bubes said.
“But on a real world level, do I think this election is going to be instrumental in changing opinions that will change votes in the future? No,” she added.