Voter registration surges in Georgia ahead of 2020 elections

New voters have registered in droves in Georgia since last year’s midterms, expanding the electorate ahead of the 2020 presidential election year when the state is expected to be a key political battleground.

More than 352,000 people signed up to vote in the past 11 months, the vast majority of them automatically registering when they obtain a driver's license, according to data from the secretary of state's office. The influx has boosted Georgia's voter rolls to a record high of nearly 7.4 million.

Many of the new voters are racial minorities or under age 30, both groups that are more likely to support Democrats than Republicans, according to a Pew Research Center poll.

About 47% of the new voters who identified their race are minorities and 45% are age 30 or younger, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of a list of voters registered from Nov. 6 to Aug. 12. By comparison, 40% of all Georgia voters are minorities and 14% are age 30 or younger. The voter list was obtained from the secretary of state’s office and provided to the AJC by Fair Fight PAC, a political action committee that supports Democratic parties nationwide.

The growth in voters is caused more by Georgia's booming population than by people rushing to register ahead of a presidential election. Registrations at driver's license offices far outpaced voter registration drives, indicating that many of the new voters recently moved to Georgia or turned 18 years old.

Elections in Georgia next year will feature races for president, two U.S. senators and every seat in the General Assembly. In 2016, Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by 5 percentage points.

The gap between Republicans and Democrats narrowed in last year's midterms, when Republican Brian Kemp defeated Democrat Stacey Abrams by about 55,000 votes, a 1.4 percentage point margin of victory, in the race for governor. Republicans also won every other statewide race on the ballot, but Democrats believe the state's demographic trends favor their side.

“Rapid population growth and changing demographics in Georgia provide Democrats huge opportunities,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’ former campaign manager and a senior adviser for Fair Fight PAC. “Each eligible Georgian who moves to Georgia and becomes a voter is more likely to vote Democratic than Republican.”

Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the increase in registered voters shows the success of automatic voter registration and highlights other ways election officials have improved voting access, such as absentee voting for anyone who requests a mailed ballot and three weeks of early voting.

“Georgia is the national leader in both voter registration and voter accessibility,” Raffensperger said. “This didn’t happen overnight, but is the culmination of years of decisions that make voter registration and voting easier in Georgia. … All of these were done as Republican initiatives with bipartisan support.”

While the surge in voters is significant, it isn’t unexpected.

Similar numbers of new voters have been added to the rolls each year since September 2016, when Georgia started automatic voter registration at driver’s license offices. About 365,000 new voters have registered each year at Georgia’s driver’s license offices since the beginning of 2017, for a total of 989,000 new voters, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Meanwhile, traditional voter registration efforts are reaching hundreds of thousands more potential voters.

The Voter Participation Center, a voter registration group that targets unmarried women, people of color and young people, sent registration forms to more than 560,000 Georgians last month.

The eyes of the nation will be on Georgia during the 2020 election year, said Jessica Barba Brown, the CEO for the Voter Participation Center.

“Georgia is going to be huge,” Brown said. “Because of the demographic change in the state, it’s a growing population, and we have an opportunity to make a big impact.”

Of Georgia’s newly registered voters since Election Day 2018, more than 31,000 of them mailed their registration forms to election officials, which reflects some of the impact of voter registration drives such as those run by the Voter Participation Center. The center said more than 5,500 forms were returned to the secretary of state’s office as a result of its efforts last year.

ProGeorgia, a group that coordinates registration outreach with more than a dozen organizations, said it's on track to register 21,000 new voters this year.

“People are getting ready for 2020. It is not a game,” said Tamieka Atkins, the executive director for ProGeorgia. “People realize the power of their vote, and they’re really eager to exercise it.”

The consequences of Georgia’s changing population could be felt in elections, said Amy Spring, a demographer at Georgia State University.

Georgia’s population as a whole is aging, but most older residents are already registered to vote, and new residents are more likely to be young or minorities.

“Some of the most important variables for predicting how people are going to vote is their age, their racial and ethnic categories, and also their urbanization — whether they’re living in cities or rural areas,” Spring said. “If you can project those trends into the future, you get a picture of where Georgia is going.”

By the numbers

352,346: New voters in Georgia since Nov. 7

47%: New voters who listed their race as African American, Hispanic, Asian or other

45%: New voters age 30 or under

7.4 million: Total registered voters in Georgia