Georgia’s primary went well. Voting supporters worry about November.

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LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. — Turnout set modern records for a midterm primary. Ballot rejections plummeted. And Republican leaders were quick to say Tuesday’s relatively trouble-free election in Georgia provided evidence that concerns about the state’s new election law, passed last year, had been overblown.

“The incredible turnout we’ve seen demonstrates once and for all that Georgia’s Election Integrity Act has struck the right balance between access and security safeguards,” the secretary said. Georgia state Brad Raffensperger, who won the Republican nomination for re-election on Tuesday, in a statement. at the Washington Post.

But voting rights groups and Democrats, while celebrating the high turnouts, had a different interpretation: The high turnout, they argued, was the result of years of painstaking efforts to register and mobilizing voters – not a reflection of the Election Integrity Act, which is also known as Senate Bill 202. And just because the primary went well, didn’t -they said, that there will be no problems in November.

“Great efforts have been made by the faith community to organize, educate and prepare voters for SB 202. But comparing a primary to the general is like comparing apples to oranges,” said Bishop Reginald Jackson, who leads a group of more than 500 Africans. Georgia Methodist Episcopal Churches that conducted voter registration and education efforts.

The primary was the first major test of Georgia’s electoral system since Republicans signed into law the new law. Proponents of the measure, passed amid false claims of voter fraud by former President Donald Trump and his supporters, say it will enhance election security. But suffrage advocates have criticized the law as a solution in search of a problem that unnecessarily restricts access to the ballot box.

Law imposes new identification requirements for those who vote by mail, limits use of ballot boxes for mail-in ballots, makes it a crime for third-party groups to distribute food and water to voters queuing, blocking the use of mobile voting vans and preventing local governments from directly accepting private sector grants for election administration.

The law also requires poll workers to redirect voters back to their home constituency if they arrive at the wrong location before 5 p.m. Proponents of the change argue it ensures voters vote in the right local elections, while critics say it may discourage people from voting. once they have already arrived at a polling station.

No county reported long lines at polling places or widespread problems with voting systems on Tuesday. As usual, some polling stations reported late openings or understaffing, which forced several sites in the Atlanta metro area to stay open later. Voters at several sites observed by The Post were diverted from the polls and told to vote in another constituency, leading to some confusion and frustration.

Rejection rates for mail-in ballots, meanwhile, were much lower than they were four years ago. Analysis by The Post shows that rates have fallen from around 4.3% to 1%.

The Post analyzed data released by the Secretary of State’s office at 10 p.m. Thursday. To allow for proper comparison, only data available two days after the primary in 2018 was used.

Voting advocates had predicted that a new requirement to provide an identification number when voting by mail – either the last four digits of a social security number or the number of a national identity card – deprive voters of their right to vote.

But the requirement replaced another controversial rule that was in effect in 2018, the previous midterm cycle. Known as “exact match,” it had required that information provided on mail-in ballots, including the voter’s signature, exactly match existing driver or Social Security records.

Rejection rates in 2018 reflected a significant racial disparity. This year, about 5% of black voters’ ballots were rejected, compared to only 3.6% of white voters. This year the figures were 1.2% and 0.9% respectively, according to data on the ethnicity of voters from the L2 voter registration company.

Turnout, meanwhile, has increased significantly among Democratic and Republican primary voters. Among the voting-age population, 23% voted, up from 14.5% in 2018.

On the Republican side, 1.2 million Georgians voted, more than double the number of participants in 2018. Even in Democrat Stacey Abrams’ undisputed bid for her party’s gubernatorial nomination, 720,000 people voted in the Democratic primary, an increase of almost 20% compared to 2018.

The increase in turnout reflected how competitive the GOP races for governor and secretary of state were. Voting rights groups said it also stems from their hard work: 95% of eligible people in the state are registered to vote this year, according to state data, among the highest rates in the country.

The New Georgia Project, Rock the Vote and Black Voters Matter, among other groups, have spent millions on outreach and voter education efforts in the run-up to the primary.

Automatic voter registration also surged in the weeks leading up to the primary registration deadline after the Georgia Department of Driver Services reinstated an opt-in registration feature on its website more than a year after that a site redesign had inadvertently erased the feature. Voting advocates had noticed a sharp drop in registrations and reported it to state officials.

“The turnout is certainly an indication that Georgian voters are highly motivated and determined to vote this year. They have seen the power of their votes in 2020 and 2021 and are ready to make history again,” said Xakota Espinoza, spokesperson for Fair Fight Action, a voting rights organization. “The principal was an important test to determine what additional work needs to be done to mitigate the impacts of SB 202.”

Espinoza said a particular area of ​​concern was the rejection rate for absentee ballot applications. While ballot rejections have declined, candidacy rejections have increased from 1.4% to 2.3%, according to the Post’s analysis.

Critics of SB 202 have accused its Republican sponsors of making it harder to apply for mail-in ballots by bringing forward the deadline. Failure to meet the deadline was the most common reason applications were rejected.

But some nonpartisan voting advocates came out in favor of the new deadline, which was intended to set a deadline so voters wouldn’t receive ballots so close to the election that they couldn’t return them. on time.

There is also a significant racial disparity in the number of applications rejected: 3.2% of applications from black voters were rejected, while the figure is 1.6% for white voters.

Each voter whose application for a postal vote was rejected for lack of an identification number received a provisional ballot, allowing them a second opportunity to vote provided they provide the necessary identification document, according to the office of the secretary of ‘State.

Significant parts of the new law’s impact won’t be fully known until after the fall general election, and possibly even in the fall of 2024, when the next presidential race is expected to increase turnout significantly. Supporters say they are concerned about possible long lines if voters are reluctant to vote by mail because of the new ID requirement. They also point to the possible harm that could result from a new ban prohibiting the provision of food and water to people standing within those lines.

Republicans vehemently deny it, but suffrage supporters say they believe such moves are racially motivated and will require a strong response to prevent Georgia’s black vote from being depressed.

“Over the past 18 months, extremists have shown they will do just about anything to minimize the African-American vote in Georgia,” said Jackson, the bishop. “Most of this initial data shows that what the faith community is doing on the ground is working, but we are not resting. We have been fighting unprecedented racism and marginalization for decades, and we will not rest until we ensure that all African Americans have the opportunity to vote in November.

At least on Tuesday, many voters said they had a positive experience casting their ballots.

“It was really easy, come and go, no waiting,” said Andrea Henderson, customer service administrator in Duluth.

Henderson had helped count ballots in the 2020 election, when she and others worked overnight to process votes amid backlogs and long queues.

Lamar Banks, a maintenance technician and army veteran who lives in Gwinnett County, said he expected a long line this year but was pleasantly surprised. He sped up the process.

“I think it should be easy to vote. I have no problem showing my ID, I understand that,” Banks said. “I’m not naive, I understand that there are players in the game who are really trying to make it very difficult for certain groups of people to vote.”

But Banks said he would not be deterred. “If I have to wait in line for 10 hours,” he said, “I’m going to vote.”

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