Turnout broke records in Georgia primary despite coronavirus threat

Poll workers respond to early glitches at the Park Tavern polling place located at 500 10th St NE, on Tuesday, June 9, 2020 in Atlanta. Many voters said they requested absentee ballots but never received them. Two lines, 300-yards long each formed parallel to Piedmont park in the parking lot as people patiently waited to vote. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Poll workers respond to early glitches at the Park Tavern polling place located at 500 10th St NE, on Tuesday, June 9, 2020 in Atlanta. Many voters said they requested absentee ballots but never received them. Two lines, 300-yards long each formed parallel to Piedmont park in the parking lot as people patiently waited to vote. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

A high-interest presidential election and widespread absentee voting led to record turnout in Georgia’s primary, even during the coronavirus pandemic.

Democratic Party voters outnumbered Republican Party voters, 52% to 45%, in the June 9 primary, according to voting data from the secretary of state’s office. The remaining 3% of voters cast nonpartisan ballots.

Races for president and U.S. Senate helped drive up Democratic turnout. No candidates challenged Republican incumbents for the same offices, President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. David Perdue. In 2016, when the Republican nomination for president was competitive, Republican voters far exceeded Democrats.

In all, nearly 2.4 million voters participated in Georgia's combined presidential and general primary last month, shattering the state's record for turnout set in the presidential primary four years ago. That's 32% of the state's eligible voters.

Broad adoption of absentee ballots boosted turnout at a time when voters avoided in-person polling places during the coronavirus pandemic.

After Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger mailed absentee ballot applications statewide, 1.15 million voters cast their ballots from home.

Absentee voting didn't appear to favor either party. Republican and Democratic voters cast absentee ballots at about the same rate, 49% of each party's overall turnout.

Voting from home will likely decline in the presidential election. Raffensperger doesn't plan to send absentee ballot applications to voters again, though county election offices, political groups or other organizations may do so instead.

Raffensperger has said turnout could reach 5 million in November, which would set a new high-water mark for Georgia elections. About 4.2 million people voted in the last presidential election.

"The secretary of state and local county officials are working together to come up with unique solutions to voting in a pandemic," said Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs. "It is our mission to maintain all options, which include three weeks of early voting, no excuse absentee voting and access to voting drop boxes."

Turnout by voting method in the June 9 primary

Absentee by mail: 49%

Election day: 37%

In-person early voting: 14%

Sources: Georgia Secretary of State’s Office