Stacey Abrams pushes hard for early in-person voter turnout under new election laws

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DECATUR, Ga. (AP) — Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee, is launching an intensive push to get the vote by urging would-be supporters to vote in person the first week of early voting as she attempts to navigate the new state election laws.

The strategy, described to The Associated Press by Abrams’ top aides, is a change from 2018, when she spent lavishly during her first gubernatorial bid to encourage voters to use ballots. by mail. It also moves away from Democrats’ pandemic-era emphasis on mail-in voting, a push that gave Georgia’s electoral votes to President Joe Biden and helped Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff winning concurrent polls in the U.S. Senate to give Democrats control of Capitol Hill.

Republicans, including Abrams’ opponent Gov. Brian Kemp, responded in 2021 with sweeping election changes that, among other provisions, drastically reduced drop boxes for mail-in ballots, added wrinkles absentee ballot applications and ballot return forms, and facilitated disputes. the eligibility of an individual voter. But it also expanded in-person voting.

“It stands to reason that we need to hold a big early vote in person,” Abrams campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said, arguing that new mail-in voting procedures make it risky for Democrats to rely too much on this option. “What’s not obvious,” Groh-Wargo continued, “is how the hell you do that.”

This midterm season’s primary elections suggested a national decline in mail-in voting, which peaked in 2020 due to COVID-19. Still, Abrams’ approach, which is shared by some liberal suffrage activists, represents a pivot from the Democrats’ pre-COVID tactics and shows how the left intends to try to maximize their votes in jurisdictions where Republicans retain control of election proceedings.

Abrams’ push, scheduled to begin a month before early voting begins, comes with some polls suggesting she trails Kemp slightly after losing their opener by around 55,000 out of 4 million votes.

Starting Sunday, the Democrat’s campaign will ask supporters to pledge to vote at in-person voting sites during the first week of early voting, which opens Oct. 17. The campaign will send digital pledge cards to targeted supporters via email and SMS, with direct mail to follow. Field workers will ask voters to fill out pledge cards, with 2 million households scheduled for in-person visits. And the Abrams campaign will make pledge cards a standard part of its campaign events.

The week-long commitment, with a voter going beyond simply committing to vote before early voting ends on Nov. 4, is intentional. After adding an individual’s engagement to their profile in the campaign’s voter database, Abrams’ team will use publicly available engagement data to identify anyone who hasn’t followed or had trouble voting. Anyone who is denied access to early voting will be directed to the Georgia Democrats’ Operation Voter Protection.

“If they are unable to vote successfully, there is still plenty of time to ensure their vote can be cast,” said Esosa Osa, a senior campaign adviser. “It gets a lot more difficult when we’re talking about voting on Election Day.”

Groh-Wargo said that was better than seeing mail-in ballots rejected or waiting until Election Day and, under new laws, not getting a provisional ballot until the end of the 8 November, without further recourse.

Georgia Democrats are not abandoning mail-in voting entirely. The state party and Abrams’ campaign together targeted 500,000 reliable Democratic voters to vote by mail. They were identified based on their long history of using this method, rather than anything they did from 2018, when Democrats emphasized a mail and absenteeism process that Georgia Republicans had dominated before.

During his first campaign against Kemp, Abrams took the unusual step of sending nearly completed absentee ballot applications to 1.6 million Georgians. presidential campaigns. With a cost approaching seven figures, Abrams knew it would be inefficient; these applications generally attract less than 10% of participants.

But the campaign identified tens of thousands of new voters through that effort. Abrams ended up overtaking Kemp in support by mail by 53,709 votes, although she lost the early in-person vote by 19,895 and the Election Day vote by nearly 94,000. She won about two-thirds of the more than 10,000 provisional ballots. She ended up missing about 19,000 votes to force a runoff because Georgia law requires a majority to win statewide offices.

The 2021 Republican Voting Overhaul prohibits the type of mail sent by Abrams, allowing only state-issued blank forms. These now require voter ID — a state ID number or photocopy of the ID — and the voter’s birthday. Much of the information must be repeated with the returned ballot, creating the possibility of more mismatches that could result in the ballot being rejected.

Groh-Wargo would not offer a specific early voting turnout target. But she said Abrams’ first in-person endorsement in 2018 – 930,131 of his 1.92 million votes – fell short of internal targets. Still, Abrams’ overall tally, even if defeated, at the time exceeded every Democrat in Georgia’s history. He was eclipsed by Biden, Warnock and Ossoff as the overall electorate continued to grow.

“All of this makes early voting all the more important,” said Nsé Ufot, who now heads the New Georgia Project, a suffrage rights group Abrams founded when she was a young state legislator. .

Ufot said his outlet and others like him are pushing early in-person voting in their outreach efforts. The New Georgia Project, she said, has registered 30,000 new voters and knocked on 1.3 million doors since the 2021 Senate runoff, with 1 million more expected before November 8.

Revamping voter turnout plans, Groh-Wargo said, doesn’t change Democrats’ underlying need to expand the electorate if they hope to win in a historically conservative state like Georgia. That means many of the 1.6 million households who received Abrams’ mail-in ballot application in 2018 who did not vote will still receive a visit on the in-person early vote.

This expansion strategy, Ufot said, still faces skepticism from some Democratic donors. “It’s so clear that people have no idea how 2020 went or 2018 for that matter,” Ufot said.

The pressure behind the scenes has intensified, Ufot said, with polls since early July suggesting a tight race or a narrow Kemp lead. Groh-Wargo said she heard Abrams’ story “struggling.” She acknowledged an “unpleasant environment” for Democrats given global inflation and Biden being less popular in Georgia than when he won the state. But the concern, she said, remains rooted in misunderstanding Abrams’ path.

“A lot of our constituencies are ‘persuasion voters,'” Groh-Wargo said. That doesn’t mean swing voters, she said, because they don’t choose between Abrams and Kemp — they decide whether to support Abrams or not vote at all.

Yet, Ufot said, the dynamic puts enormous pressure on Abrams and his campaign to succeed so that the left’s donor base does not begin to short-circuit the networks of voter turnout that it says are needed to tap into various electorates in traditionally Republican states.

“It’s going to be a thumbs up game,” she said. “We just have to widen the opening to see what’s playing here.”



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