Georgia gubernatorial race in the national limelight
Muscogee County voted for Stacey Abrams.
As Election Day results came in, they showed Columbus residents voted for the Democrat by 16,621 to Republican Brian Kemp’s 13,610. Libertarian Ted Metz got just 295 votes.
Adding those tallies to the early in-person vote and the mail-in absentees, the totals come to 38,251 for Abrams, 24,301 for Kemp and 459 for Metz.
The outcome here was not surprising: Columbus long has been a a Democratic stronghold, a blue county in a red state.
And Abrams’ supporters worked hard at getting their voters to cast ballots during early in-person voting, between Oct. 15 and Nov. 2.
Early voting set a record for a midterm in Columbus and across the state, and it has changed the way campaigns operate.
For example, the weather on Election Day used to matter: Political prognosticators always predicted rain would depress turnout, favoring one side or the other.
But as a line of showers moved into Georgia on Tuesday, it posed the question: Can bad weather reduce turnout if the turnout already turned out?
Georgia’s early vote was historic, for a midterm, nearly twice that of 2014: Residents cast 2,071,830 ballots – 1,886,905 in-person and 184,925 by mail, according to the state.
In the last midterm, on Nov. 4, 2014, the tally was 945,507 early votes – 838,484 in-person and 107,023 by mail.
In Muscogee County, tracing this year’s early vote back to the neighborhood precincts the voters live in showed that going into Election Day, some of those polls already had nearly a 40 percent turnout of their active voters, the people considered most likely to participate.
Eleven of the city’s 25 precincts had a turnout of at least 30 percent or more, and they were not heavily weighted on one side of town or the other, in Columbus’ north-south and black-white divide, which usually translates to a Republican north and Democratic south.
Here are the precincts with the highest percentage of early votes:
▪ Wynnbrook Baptist Church, 500 River Knoll Way, 39 percent.
▪ Psalmond Road Recreation Center, 6500 Psalmond Road, 38 percent.
▪ St. John A.M.E. Church, 3980 Steam Mill Road, 37 percent.
▪ St. Paul United Methodist Church, 2101 Wildwood Ave., 36 percent.
▪ Columbus Public Library, 3000 Macon Road, 35 percent.
▪ Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church, 4400 Old Cusseta Road, 34 percent.
▪ Faith Tabernacle Church, 1603 Floyd Road, 34 percent.
▪ Rothschild Middle School, 1136 Hunt Ave., 34 percent.
▪ St. Mark United Methodist Church, 6795 Whitesville Road, 32 percent.
▪ Fort Middle School, 2900 Woodruff Farm Road, 31 percent.
▪ St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, 4980 Hancock Road, 31 percent.
When early in-person voting ended at 7 p.m. Friday, the total ballots cast at Columbus’ midtown poll since early voting began came to 27,786 – short of the early in-person vote record set here during the 2016 presidential election, 34,209, but easily outdistancing the 13,812 votes cast in person in 2014, when the total counting 2,571 mail-in absentee ballots and 44 military electronic votes came to 16,427.
A different world
So this year nearly 30,000 ballots already were banked in Columbus, and more than 2 million statewide, going into the final 12 hours of voting on Election Day, when the forecast called for rain.
Neither rain, nor wind, nor celebrity endorsements, nor presidential rallies, nor last-minute announcements of computer hacking investigations, can change votes already cast.
“You work on that early vote, because you never know what the weather will be,” said Congressman Sanford Bishop, who faced a challenge this year from Republican Herman West. “It reduces the risk. It’s called ‘risk management.’”
Bishop was among area Democratic leaders mingling Tuesday outside the party’s Midtown Drive headquarters in Columbus as gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams made another stop in town.
State Rep. Calvin Smyre said early voting captures the enthusiasm of a combative election campaign while the energy is high. “I’m just impressed with the numbers from midterm to midterm,” he said. “It’s been a significant number of voters to turn out. I think they said 28,000 now, versus the 13 or 14 (thousand) last time. It changes the dynamics.”
State Rep. Carolyn Hugley remembered how it used to be.
“When I first started running for office, everything was the last weekend before election – all the mail pieces would go out, any surprises would come during that time frame,” she said. “But with early voting, you have to be ready for your voters to go to the polls when early voting starts. If you wait until Election Day, you’re going to lose.”
Anyone with a TV knows early voting has not significantly decreased the last-minute blitz of negative campaign ads, but it likely has reduced their impact.
“It eliminates to some degree, the last-minute negative ad that the opponent puts out, because if they put it out early on, then there’s time for you to respond,” Hugley added. “In the old days they would put it out the Saturday before the election, and there was no time for their opponents to respond.”
The fear of voter suppression – of encountering unexpected impediments on Election Day – likely was a factor driving this year’s early turnout, she said. Reports of 53,000 voter registrations being held in “pending” status got older voters’ attention, she said.
“Older people were very upset about that, and they started remembering stories about the tests that people used to have to take, and how far people had to walk, and all the other barriers to full citizenship. The ‘60s are not that far away.”