Many voters have yet to tune in to the primary contests

Isaac Akomeah, seated, chats about the Democratic primary in Georgia's 7th Congressional District with state Rep. Donna McLeod, one of the three candidates in the race. (Tia Mitchell/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

caption arrowCaption
Isaac Akomeah, seated, chats about the Democratic primary in Georgia's 7th Congressional District with state Rep. Donna McLeod, one of the three candidates in the race. (Tia Mitchell/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

LAWRENCEVILLE — Early voting ahead of Georgia’s May 24 primary begins Monday, but many voters have yet to decide which candidates to support in down-ballot races for Congress, the General Assembly and even some statewide offices.

For some voters, it may even come as a surprise that yet another election is around the corner.

Isaac Akomeah gasped with surprise when state Rep. Donna McLeod told him that she was a candidate for federal office and needed his vote in the coming weeks. He had been out running errands and arrived home while McLeod was canvassing in his neighborhood.

He said the choice is easy when it’s Republican versus Democrat on the ballot: He votes Democratic. But now he needed to get up to speed about the races where multiple Democrats are competing, such as McLeod’s three-way contest for the 7th Congressional District nomination.

Akomeah promised her he would research her race and others and that he would participate in the primary.

But history teaches us that turnout in this month’s primary will likely be lower than what we saw in the 2020 general election and even the January 2021 runoffs. Primaries already draw fewer voters than the general election contests later in the year, and midterm elections have lower turnout than races held in years when the presidential contest is also on the ballot.

And it doesn’t help that voters here have been bombarded with ads and candidate pitches seemingly on a continuous basis since Georgia was identified as a swing state going into the 2020 cycle, Kennesaw State University political science professor Kerwin Swint said.

“I think another factor is that a lot of voters even may be just exhausted from all the politics and the almost toxic environment they may see out there,” he said. “So that may turn some people off to the congressional races.”

McLeod is competing against two well-funded members of Congress, U.S. Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux and Lucy McBath, who have sent out multiple mailers and paid for TV ads. McLeod doesn’t have that type of money, but she canvasses neighborhoods just about every day.

She uses a smartphone app that maps where frequent voters live and provides a daily goal of visits. Hoping not to be seen as a bother on Good Friday, she decided just to leave her flyers behind at the homes on her list.

But every now and again someone would see McLeod on their video doorbell or happen to be driving up as she walked down their driveway, such as Akomeah. And to those people, she made her pitch.

“I am your state representative, Donna McLeod, and I am also a candidate for Congress,” she said, offering up her literature.

She said canvassing allows her to reach voters and not only educate them on her race but on the election process in general. For example, she tells voters that even if they don’t have a party affiliation, it is best that they request a Republican or Democratic ballot during primaries so that they can weigh in on as many contests as possible.

“They’re getting more and more engaged now,” McLeod said of voters in the district.

Tiffany Collazo was not on McLeod’s list of frequent, reliable Democratic voters but was another homeowner she came across during the canvass. Collazo said she had work to do before heading to the polls.

“Thank you for passing by,” she told McLeod. “I have to do more research, but I didn’t grow up in a family that voted. For me, this is all new.”

Georgia voters seem to be most informed when it comes to races at the top of the ticket, including Republican primaries for the U.S. Senate and governor. A recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll found that just 15% of likely voters in the GOP primary were undecided in the governor’s race and 23% when it came to the Senate contest.

The poll was conducted April 10-22 by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs, and the margin of error is 3.3 percentage points.

Further down the ticket, it was a different story. Over half of the 886 Republicans polled, 52%, said they didn’t know who they would vote for in the race for lieutenant governor.

In the Georgia secretary of state race, 37% of respondents were undecided. Most of them, 54%, said they didn’t know enough about U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, a GOP challenger to incumbent Brad Raffensperger, to say whether they viewed him favorably or unfavorably.

“I don’t know much about Jody Hice other than the name,” said Tom Walters, who lives near Suwanee. “But if I were to vote today, I’d probably vote for Raffensperger. I just don’t know enough about the issues where I would throw him out just to throw him out.”

Wayne Barrow, who lives in Villa Rica, is still researching candidates. He saw an ad on TV for lieutenant governor candidate Butch Miller and liked what he saw: a conservative who seemed to have some life experience to bring to the job. He is leaning toward supporting Miller in the primary but hasn’t made up his mind yet.

“You have to go based on what they say because you don’t really know them,” Barrow said. “And you don’t really know if they are going to do what they say they’re going to do or not. But you just have to try to use your wisdom to pick the best person that you think might do the job.”

Barrow said his faith often guides him at the polling booth, and he doesn’t expect anything different this year.

“He is the one that gives me direction, so I trust him,” Barrow said, referring to God.

Attorney Jake Evans is in a nine-way GOP primary in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. Hoping to win the contest or at least make the June runoff, he has been trying to host a variety of events to appeal to different types of voters and get them interested in the election.

That means he may talk about outlawing abortion or “critical race theory” with a small group of parents one night and on the next host a reception at a Dawsonville racetrack.

Evans said the goal is to get people talking about his campaign with the hope it translates to support on election day.

“The parents that came out tonight also will talk about it within their communities,” he said after an education discussion earlier this month. “And that creates the buzz and energy about the Jake Evans candidacy.”

About the Author

Editors' Picks