The State of Georgia is the epicenter of American politics. The 2020 victories of Jon Ossoff to the U.S. Senate and Joe Biden’s 11,779 vote victory over former President Donald J. Trump in the Presidential Election, saw the Peach State catapult itself to the center of America’s political universe.
Fast forward to the 2022 U.S. Senate runoff elections between incumbent Democrat Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel J. Walker. More than 1.8 million people have voted during the early voting period in the runoff, which represents 26.7% of Georgia’s electorate. However, there are major differences in this runoff from the twin runoffs in 2020.
The first major difference is the fact this was the first four-week runoff due in Georgia history. Previously, there were nine-week periods between the general election and the runoff because counties needed time to distribute absentee ballots and prepare election materials.
Chief Operations Officer with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, Gabriel Sterling, told reporters Tuesday, “there should be a conversation” regarding the future of runoff elections in Georgia.
“If we polled Georgians & they had the choice between a 9 week runoff, 4 week runoff and no runoff I have a pretty good idea where that’s going to land,” Sterling said.
As of 4:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, more than one million people voted on Election Day, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. However, the administration of the runoff squarely rests on the Republican Party.
“I think it’s deeply disappointing to see the period of early votes shortened for a runoff election,” said Sarah Amico, the 2018 Georgia Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor and surrogate for the Warnock campaign. “As you know, SB 202, backed by Georgia Republicans, shortened from nine to four weeks the runoff period. In this case, the Republicans also fought Saturday voting, and they did so because it was within two days of a former Confederate holiday celebrating the birth of Robert E. Lee. That’s not okay.”
40% of the early vote came from Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett Counties. However, it was in those five counties where the longest wait times were clocked. Routinely, more than two-thirds of the twenty-four early voting precincts in Fulton County had wait times of two hours or more.
“It’s not okay to disenfranchise working people who may need more options to get to the polls,” Amico continued. “I have elementary aged children and I know that sometimes it’s hard to get a babysitter but it’s a lot harder if you’re stuck in a three hour line to vote like many people were on Friday of early voting. But make no mistake, those long lines were not just the result of Georgia voters’ enthusiasm, which is of course high, but it was the direct result of a policy failure pushed by SB 202 and the Georgia Republicans.”
One solution to the major issues could be greater incentives for people to sign up and become poll workers. The second solution is a better working relationship between the Secretary of State’s office and the counties tasked to administer the elections.
“If it’s pay, more benefits, whatever it is, we’ve got to basically be a state that makes people want to participate in democracy,” said Democratic strategist Tharon Johnson. “And what you saw was probably a confluence of mechanics and things that were going on. But we didn’t have enough workers, particularly when the Republicans unsuccessfully tried to take away Saturday voting. And so people were kind of confused; wondering ‘do I go to work,’or ‘do I not go to work.’ So particularly right around the holidays is when you need to make sure that these folks are incentivized and that we have the necessary personnel to administer an election.”