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Voter registration on the rise in Georgia, even during the coronavirus

Voters wear masks while lining up to cast their votes during the first day of early voting at the Cobb County Board of Elections & Registration on Monday afternoon, May 18, 2020, in Marietta. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com
Voters wear masks while lining up to cast their votes during the first day of early voting at the Cobb County Board of Elections & Registration on Monday afternoon, May 18, 2020, in Marietta. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

The coronavirus pandemic and shelter-in-place orders didn’t stop tens of thousands of Georgians from registering to vote.

About 72,000 voters registered in the two months after Gov. Brian Kemp declared a public health emergency March 14, an expansion comparable to prior registration rates, according to voter lists obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

There are now more than 7.3 million registered voters in Georgia ahead of the state’s June 9 primary.

While many people stayed home, they still found ways to sign up to vote.

The main way voters register in Georgia is through the state's automatic voter registration program, which signs up eligible voters when they obtain driver's licenses unless they check a box to opt out.

Driver’s license offices remained open during the coronavirus except for seven days in late March. Data showing how many new voters registered at driver’s license offices wasn’t immediately available.

Meanwhile, voter registration groups such as New Georgia Project had to change tactics when trying to reach new voters.

Instead of knocking on doors at a time when people are avoiding human contact, New Georgia Project contacted voters by phone, text messages and the internet. The group registered 21,000 people since Martin Luther King Day in January, said Nse Ufot, executive director for New Georgia Project, founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams in 2014.

“We prioritize high-quality face-to-face conversations. In the absence of that, we’ve had to shift,” Ufot said. “People are at home and thinking about ways to make sure that they have leadership that’s accountable to them and their communities and families.”

The number of active voters in Georgia has grown at a rate of 36,000 per month since fall 2016, when automatic voter registration began, according to figures calculated from state voter registration lists. Voters who are considered “inactive” have either moved or missed several elections, and their registrations are periodically canceled.

During the coronavirus, the monthly registration rate was about 38,000 new voters between March 14, when Kemp urged social distancing, and May 11, the state’s voter registration deadline.

Registrations by young people grew more quickly than other age groups, increasing 3% during that period. Overall, the number of registered voters in Georgia increased by 1%.

Georgia's registration numbers have jumped 29% since automatic voter registration started, when Kemp, a Republican, was secretary of state.

“The growth in the registration list is almost entirely due to policies the previous secretary of state put into place. It has never been easier for a U.S. citizen to register to vote in Georgia,” said Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs.

Aklima Khondoker, Georgia director for All Voting is Local, an organization focused on voting access, said many have been motivated to register and cast ballots by Ahmaud Arbery's killing, the government's handling of the coronavirus, and public attention surrounding a high-profile presidential primary that was delayed twice.

“Georgians want to make sure that their votes count,” Khondoker said. “So many people across the state have been plugged in to voting.”

Voter turnout is also strong so far, in large part because many people are voting by mail after Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger sent absentee ballot request forms to all active voters.

Over 518,000 people had voted through Wednesday — about 472,000 by mail and 46,000 in person since early voting started Monday.

Georgia’s electorate by age

Under 25: 13%

25-34: 19%

35-44: 16%

45-54: 17%

55-64: 16%

Over 64: 19%

Source: Georgia voter list