Record numbers register to vote in Georgia before election

Voters lined up early at Henry W. Grady High School in November to cast their votes. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

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Voters lined up early at Henry W. Grady High School in November to cast their votes. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

A record number of Georgians, more than 6.9 million, are registered to vote ahead of next month’s election for governor, the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office reported Wednesday.

That figure includes at least 253,902 new voters who signed up since the April 24 voter registration deadline for the primary election.

These new voters filed their registration applications before Tuesday's deadline to sign up to vote. The number of registered voters will only grow in the next few days as mailed-in paper applications are processed by election officials.

The jump in registrations brings in swarms of potential voters who could sway the hotly contested Nov. 6 election for governor between Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams.

But to make a difference in the election, they’ll have to show up. Just 43 percent of registered voters cast ballots during the last Georgia midterm election in 2014.

Voting by mail has already begun in Georgia, and early in-person voting starts Monday. Twice as many people have voted by mail so far this year compared with the same point in the election year in 2014.

The number of people eligible to vote is higher than in the 2016 presidential election, even though Kemp's office canceled more than 668,000 registrations last year. Registrations in Georgia can be canceled when inactive voters don't have any contact with election officials for several years, or when they move out of state, die, are convicted of a felony or are declared mentally incompetent.

“Despite what you hear or read, the numbers are clear,” Kemp said in a statement Wednesday. “While outside agitators disparage this office and falsely attack us, we have kept our heads down and remained focused on ensuring secure, accessible, and fair elections for all voters.

“The fact is that it has never been easier to register to vote and get engaged in the electoral process in Georgia, and we are incredibly proud to report this new record.”

There were about 6,659,000 registered voters on Election Day in 2016 compared with more than 6,915,000 registered voters today.

Abrams has emphasized registering nonwhites, unmarried women and millennials in her effort to become Georgia's governor. She founded the New Georgia Project in 2013 with a goal of registering 800,000 people of color within a decade.

So far, voters who have mailed absentee ballots are 42 percent African-American in a state with a population that's 32 percent black. It wasn't clear Wednesday how many of the state's newly registered voters are black.

Now that so many new voters have registered, voting organizations will work to get out the vote by helping them find precincts and plan transportation, said Tamieka Atkins, the executive director for ProGeorgia, a nonprofit civic engagement group that registered more than 44,000 people with its partner organizations this year.

“A gain of 250,000 newly registered voters, that’s a huge amount. It’s proof that this is going to be a truly exciting election cycle. People are engaged,” Atkins said. “People typically register and turn out to vote in presidential election years. Midterm years are typically not as exciting and sexy.”

More people are registering to vote in Georgia because of high interest in this year’s election, and because nonprofit civic organizations stepped up their outreach efforts, said Tracy Adkison, the president of the League of Women Voters of Georgia, which helped register voters at fairs, festivals, concerts and political events across the state.

Voters are motivated to exercise their rights after registrations were canceled and precincts were closed in recent years, she said.

“People feel that their democracy is being threatened right now. They’re feeling encouraged to participate in their government,” Adkison said. “It’s time to get off the sidelines and get in the game.”

Early in-person voting begins Monday and lasts three weeks, including at least one Saturday, on Oct. 27, at locations in each of Georgia’s 159 counties. Voters will report to their neighborhood precincts to cast their ballots on Election Day.