DeKalb election officials decided Thursday to open more early voting locations before the nationally watched congressional runoff between Karen Handel and Jon Ossoff, making it easier to cast ballots sometime other than Election Day.
But, besides increasing turnout, political experts say the move to expand early voting could also help Ossoff because many of the additional locations are in Democratic-leaning areas that favored him in last month’s special election. The election is widely seen as a referendum on Donald Trump’s presidency.
The DeKalb County Elections Board voted 5-0 to open three additional advance voting sites. They will be located in Brookhaven, Chamblee and Tucker — areas that generally supported Ossoff more than Handel and the other Republicans during the April 18 special election. Only two DeKalb early voting sites were open before that election.
Last week, Fulton County added two early voting locations for a total of six. In Handel’s stronghold of Cobb County, election officials declined to open extra early voting sites beyond the two existing locations.
“The eyes of the country are on this election,” said DeKalb resident Deborah Brown during public comments to the board. “We want to show them we know how to govern.”
Increased access to early voting in DeKalb could work in Ossoff’s favor, said Republican strategist Brian Robinson. Ossoff won 59 percent of the vote in DeKalb but 48 percent across the 6th Congressional District, short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff.
“Ossoff wants to maximize votes in DeKalb,” Robinson said. “Early voting there is of particular importance to him.”
Both Ossoff and Handel said they support more early voting locations so that their potential constituents have more opportunities to vote, especially before the June 20 runoff, which comes during summer vacations for many families.
“We need to make it convenient and efficient for everybody to vote and make their voices heard, regardless of party, regardless of what part of the county you live in, regardless of what part of the district you live in,” Ossoff said last week. “I’m all for every practice that makes it convenient for folks to vote.”
Handel said she’s especially happy to see additional polling places in north DeKalb, saying the area has long been ignored by the county government. One of the two early voting sites before last month’s special election was at the county’s elections office outside of the district’s borders; the other was at the Dunwoody Library.
“I’m glad that DeKalb County is opening additional sites so that those voters in the 6th District have additional early voting locations that are actually in the 6th District,” Handel said in a statement Thursday.
Ossoff benefited from early voting, which made up 39 percent of his vote total. By comparison, only 20 percent of Handel’s supporters voted early.
Ossoff will need an advantage in early voting to win the runoff, said Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political science professor who has been observing the Georgia congressional race.
Democrats usually vote early more often than Republicans, who prefer casting their ballots on Election Day, he said. The early voting figures will be among the first results reported on election night.
“If Ossoff is trailing the early vote, then we know he probably did not win the election,” McDonald said. “If he outperforms the early vote from the runoff, then we might have some good clues that he’s going to win.”
DeKalb Board of Elections Chairman Samuel Tillman said he heard from many voters who urged the board to increase early voting opportunities. A crowd of more than 30 people packed into a small conference room applauded after the board’s vote.
“We’ve seen the support from the people,” Tillman said. “Any time we can allow citizens to vote as easily as possible, that’s a good thing.”
Each early voting location costs the county government up to $20,000, according to election officials.
In all, there will be 13 early voting locations opening as soon as May 30 in the three counties covered by the congressional district. That’s an increase from eight available before last month’s election.
— Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article