Election Day Update: Voter turnout steady in Coastal Georgia

Ballot-marking devices and printers for the paper ballots await May primary voters for early voting at the Savannah Civic Center in Chatham County. Credit: The Current GA

Voters streamed into polling stations across Coastal Georgia on Tuesday in what is poised to be one of the heaviest turnouts for a primary election in state history.

Retirees in shorts and flip-flops, mothers with children in tow, and workers scurrying to vote before heading to work cast their ballots in a primary that has drawn national attention as a barometer of former President Donald Trump’s grip on the GOP and his Oval Office prospects in 2024.

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. and were scheduled to close 12 hours later. The office of Georgia’s secretary of state will start posting results as soon as voting ends.

Many who turned out at local schools, churches, and community centers expressed concern about the direction of the country and hoped their vote would, in a modest way, change what they described as the wayward direction of the country.

“Everything has been going south the last few months — prices, inflation, everything,” Wayne Mathis, 68, a retired electrician, standing in the crowded parking lot of a polling station at the Wilmington Island Presbyterian Church. “It’s got to get going the other way.”

At the Windsor Forest Baptist Church in south Savannah, Holly Powell, a 56-year-old Realtor, said she voted for incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp in his race against former U.S. Senator David Perdue for the Republican nomination for governor.

“I think he’s going to take the state in the right direction and go against all of the liberal things that are ruining our country — all the gross overpayments that we’re doing to things, and the shutting down of our economy and our society,” Powell said.

Three weeks of early voting signaled what could be an historic voter turnout. More than 860,068 voters cast a ballot either in person or returned an absentee ballot — a 168% increase over the 2018 gubernatorial primary and a 212% jump above 2020 primary.

Of the 860,068 voters, 488,039 were people voting with Republican ballots and 374,591 were voters using Democratic ballots. Under Georgia’s open primary system, registered voters do not have to be members of a party to vote in that party’s primary.

The Republican Party ballot features two incumbents who refused to knuckle under to pressure from former President Trump following the 2020 election.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger turned down Trump’s request to “find” enough votes to reverse Trump’s loss in Georgia. Gov. Brian Kemp rebuffed Trump’s demand that he refuse to certify the results of the election and instead convene a special session of the Georgia legislature to name a new slate of GOP electors.

Trump recruited former U.S. Senator David Perdue to run against Kemp and endorsed Rep. Jody Hice in his race against Raffensperger.

Looming above the Kemp-Perdue race for some voters was the Democratic nominee for governor, Stacey Abrams, who is unopposed on Tuesday.

“As long as Stacey Abrams don’t get in there, I don’t care,” said Michael King, 56, who works for Chemtall Inc., a chemical plant in Riceboro. He voted for Perdue.

Scott Ryfun, who anchors the largest talk radio show in South Georgia, defended recent public opinion polls showing Kemp winning a landslide.

“I think the polls look reasonable,” Ryfun told The Current, noting that many Republican voters are keen to avoid a replay of the 2020-2021 runoffs that saw Democrats John Ossoff and Raphael Warnock defeat Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

“I don’t know how much aligning with election integrity fearmongers is going to help any candidates today,” he added.

Besides the marquee Republican gubernatorial race, voters were casting ballots in congressional, local and nonpartisan races.

In Chatham County, voters were deciding who will lead the school board of the Savannah Chatham County Public School System. They also were deciding who will fill Chatham County’s four open Board of Elections seats and sit on the Superior Court and Recorder’s Court benches. 

In the race for the Democratic nomination to face Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter in the Nov. 8 election, 41-year-old Katie Christie, in Glynn County said she voted for Wade Herring because “he’s actually the only one that I had seen stuff on social media and all that and knew more about him.” Michelle Munroe and Joyce Marie Griggs, who ran for seat unsuccessfully in 2000 and 2020, are also running for the nomination. 

In Pooler, residents were deciding whether to add Chatham Area Transit bus stops to the city’s streets. According to Pooler Mayor Rebecca Benton, the proposal would increase property taxes for Pooler residents by 1.5 mills. While some voters said the infrastructure was not in place to support the CAT expansion, others said it was overdue.

“I think it’s really needed,” said Sarah Knighton, a 5th grade teacher hurrying to vote on the last day of school before summer vacation.

Reflecting Coastal Georgia’s shifting demographics, three Latino grassroots activists stood in the parking lot outside the polling station at the Pooler Recreation Center as polls opened to provide any Spanish-speaking voter with English language assistance.

Voting was crucial for the Latino community, said Daniela Rodriguez, 27, a volunteer for Latino Community Fund Georgia.

“Voting is your power, it’s your voice, to get elected officials who create change for the community,” Rodriquez said. “It’s not only you. It’s for your family and community as a whole.”

What they deemed an obligation to vote weighed heavily on the minds of many voters.

When asked why he was voting, one veteran in Brunswick, who refused to give his name, answered simply.

“Because I’ve seen the bodies on the battlefield.”

This article first appeared on The Current and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.Election Day Update: Voter turnout steady in Coastal GeorgiaElection Day Update: Voter turnout steady in Coastal Georgia

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