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Georgia Voter Turnout Efforts Make Final Push Before U.S. Senate Runoffs

(Photo: Sue Dorfman / Zuma Press)

Voter turnout efforts were in full force across Georgia on Monday, one day before the final day of voting in special runoff elections that will decide whether Democrats will retake the Senate.

For Democrats, the mood was one of cautious optimism. From outlying rural areas to Atlanta, the state’s biggest city and blue epicenter, politically active voters and organizers were making phone calls, texting people and even driving in caravans to urge people to vote—if they weren’t among the 3 million Georgians who already voted early.

“We are just going around today making sure that people can see—we are just like a billboard today,” said Lorna Charlton, who, with two teammates, was driving their purple “Vote Equality” RV in a get-out-the-vote caravan through mid-state counties. “We are trying to hit every little town, a bunch of places where they need us to show presence. We are pulling up to Dollar Generals, wherever there are people.”

“There’s a lot of good energy on the ground,” she continued, saying that the caravan was coordinating with organizers from Black Voters Matter, the New Georgia Project, county NAACP chapters and other groups running phone and text banks. Many people had already voted, Charlton said, but others said that they were waiting for Tuesday’s Election Day.

In metro Atlanta, Matthew Tyler, who was a poll worker during the presidential election and works as a victim’s advocate in the county prosecutor’s office, said Democrats were hopeful.

“We are all waiting with baited-breath until Tuesday. I’d say Democrats are cautiously optimistic,” he said. “Metro-Atlanta has seen a blitz of fun and creative get-out-to-vote efforts through the entire holiday season. Of course, it would be naive to assume that the runoff is in the bag, knowing how deeply conservative so much of Georgia still is.”

“While there was a referendum on Donald Trump in November, Republicans in Georgia are still very much the majority,” he continued. “What gives me confidence going into Tuesday are prominent Republican voices like Lin Wood, telling their base not to vote for [the incumbent Sens.] David Perdue or Kelly Loeffler. All of the voter fraud conspiracies ginned up by the right may actually reduce GOP turnout and ultimately deliver victory for Democrats in Georgia.”

Across the aisle, Republicans were in the awkward position of urging their voters to turn out at the same time that President Trump and his advisors have been attacking Georgia’s Republican governor and secretary of state for not overseeing a 2020 presidential election where he won. That tension entered new territory on Saturday, when Trump spent an hour on the phone with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to urge him to revise the vote counts and declare Trump had won. Raffensperger refused, saying the 2020 presidential results were accurate.

Nonetheless, Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting system manager, spent a half hour on Monday in a statehouse news conference where he debunked more than a dozen false claims from the president and his team. (Trump’s team filed a new suit to overturn the 2020 results on Monday.) Beyond refuting Trump’s claims, Sterling implored Republicans to ignore the noise and vote.

“If you want your values reflected by your elected officials, I strongly beg and encourage you go vote tomorrow. Do not let anybody discourage you. Do not self-suppress your own vote. Do not make a self-fulfilling prophecy out of doing this,” he said. “Don’t let anybody steal your vote that way. And that’s what’s happening if you self-suppress your vote.”

Sterling’s comments acknowledged that Trump supporters’ belief that the election was stolen, however inaccurate, were hurting turnout for the state’s incumbent Republican senators. In a normal election season, these incumbents would almost certainly sail to re-election.

“I’ve had to argue with people whom I’ve known for 20 years,” said Sterling, a Republican. “They say, ‘Well, we saw our election was stolen, we feel like our votes don’t count.’ And I said, ‘Okay, I’m not acknowledging that election was stolen, because it wasn’t. I’m not admitting there was massive voter fraud, because there wasn’t; but if you believe in your heart of hearts that there was [fraud], the best thing for you to do is to turn out and vote and make it harder for them to steal.”

Trump is slated to hold what will likely be the last rally of his presidency in northwest Georgia on Monday. The rally, which will be held in a conservative county that has one of the highest Covid-19 rates in the state, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is expected to recite many of the campaign’s attacks on Democrats and voting process. Whether the moderate Republicans who voted for Joe Biden in November will be swayed is an open question.

Meanwhile, as the airwaves are filled with nonstop and back-to-back political ads attacking the other side, organizers are looking to final pockets of votes to try to turn out by Tuesday. One last-minute area that was getting scrutiny from organizers were residents of skilled nursing facilities who applied to vote by mail, but neither received an absentee ballot or did not return their ballot. Each county has deputy registrars who can assist those elderly voters.

“In the 85 facilities that we are calling, there’s over 10,000 residents, and that’s only 12 out of 159 counties,” said Maya Scott Chung, a public health educator and organizer. These facilities often were polling places before the pandemic, but now have limited or shut public access.

“They can’t come out of the nursing homes to go and vote,” said Jessica Mathis, an activist and deputy registrar in Chatham County, which is where Savannah is located, who wrote a letter to Raffensperger on Monday. “This is a very critical time for us because we need all of the votes that we can get.”

Mathis’ letter urged Raffensperger to remind other deputy registrars that they can help the residents of skilled nursing facilities.