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Early voting ends in Georgia with enormous turnout

By Beau Evans, Capitol Beat News Service

More than 3.8 million people cast ballots in Georgia by the close of the three-week early voting period for the Nov. 3 election, marking roughly half the state’s total registered voters and nearly eclipsing the entire vote count of the 2016 election.

Around 2.6 Georgians turned out to vote in-person for early voting from Oct. 12 through Oct. 30, according to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office. Another roughly 1.2 million had cast absentee ballots through Friday, with more mail-in votes expected to arrive before Election Day.

Turnout for the Nov. 3 election looks to dwarf record numbers seen in the 2016 presidential election, which drew around 4.1 million votes in Georgia. Interest is high among Georgians this election cycle with the presidency, both U.S. Senate seats, congressional seats and control of the state House of Representatives in play.

The enormous early turnout numbers in Georgia reflected safety concerns about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, long lines seen during the June 9 primaries and mistrust in the integrity of the election ahead of one of the most consequential elections for Georgia in decades.

Raffensperger has estimated another 2 million Georgians could head to the polls on Election Day next week, potentially upping the final vote tally to 6 million of the state’s 7.6 million registered voters.

“Voters are coming out to vote,” Raffensperger told members of the State Elections Board on Friday.

With a huge chunk of the vote coming from mail-in ballots, Raffensperger has said officials tasked with publishing election results “plan to get them up as soon as we have them.” Absentee ballots postmarked by 7 p.m. on Election Day will still be counted if they arrive three days later due to a recent federal court ruling.

“We want everyone to know that your vote counts,” Raffensperger said earlier this week. “We want to get those election results up as soon as possible.”

Raffensperger has urged Georgians to “make a plan” if they intend to vote on Tuesday with lines expected to be long. He has also pressed mail-in voters to deliver their absentee ballots quickly to one of hundreds of drop-off boxes scattered throughout the state or at a local elections office.

Come Election Day, the state and counties have recruited around 50,000 volunteers largely as poll workers, while several hundred contractors and others trained in how to troubleshoot Georgia’s new voting machines will be at precincts for technical assistance, according to Raffensperger.

Gaps in poll worker know-how and minor technical glitches contributed to long lines during the June 9 primary, along with delays caused by safety and sanitization measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The large number of volunteers should help smooth the process on Nov. 3, Raffensperger said earlier this week.

“Though we originally aimed to recruit just 10,000 Georgians, average, everyday voters joined the effort in droves, exceeding even our expectations,” Raffensperger said in a statement Friday. “These heroes deserve to be recognized for their selfless dedication to upholding democracy in Georgia.”

Polling places in Georgia will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3.