Turnout dip among Georgia Republicans flipped U.S. Senate

10/13/2020 - Lawrenceville, Georgia - Gwinnett County residents wait in line to cast heir ballot on the second day of early voting at the Gwinnett County Voter Registration and Elections building in Lawrenceville, Tuesday, October 13, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
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10/13/2020 - Lawrenceville, Georgia - Gwinnett County residents wait in line to cast heir ballot on the second day of early voting at the Gwinnett County Voter Registration and Elections building in Lawrenceville, Tuesday, October 13, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Control of the U.S. Senate was on the line, but many Georgia Republicans — at least some deterred by Donald Trump’s loss — stayed home rather than cast ballots in January’s runoffs.

Their absence at the polls helped swing Georgia and the Senate to the Democrats.

Over 752,000 Georgia voters who cast ballots in the presidential election didn’t show up again for the runoffs just two months later, according to a new analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of recently released voting records.

More than half of the no-shows were white, and many lived in rural areas, constituencies that lean toward Republican candidates.

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Trump’s message that the election was stolen discouraged voters such as Craig Roland, a 61-year-old Rome resident. Roland said he didn’t believe his vote would count.

“What good would it have done to vote? They have votes that got changed,” Roland said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever vote again.”

Meanwhile, 228,000 new voters cast ballots in the runoffs who hadn’t voted in the Nov. 3 election. They were more racially diverse and younger voters who tend to back Democrats.

The runoffs’ outcome: Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock ousted Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffer, and the Democrats took the majority in the U.S. Senate.

Other voters who also sat out the runoffs also said they were demotivated after the presidential election, which Trump lost in Georgia by less than 12,000 votes.

“I don’t feel anybody was worth voting for. They’re all crooked in my opinion,” said Mary Lambert, a 39-year-old from Ringgold.

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The AJC’s analysis found that the drop in turnout was most severe in northwest and South Georgia, areas where Trump held rallies, in Dalton and Valdosta, to bolster support for the state’s Republican senators.

At those events, Trump both reinforced his criticism of Georgia’s elections, with unsubstantiated allegations of fraud, and urged voters to support the state’s Republican senators.

“Repeated attacks on the election system muddied the waters for Republican voters and may have convinced some of his strongest supporters that Perdue and Loeffler weren’t doing enough to support his claims and weren’t worth turning out for,” said Bernard Fraga, an Emory University political science professor who researched voting data.

The numbers show that while overall turnout fell from 5 million in the presidential election to 4.5 million in the runoffs, the most precipitous declines occurred among Republican voters, Fraga said.

Republican leads in the original election evaporated in the runoffs, which were required under state law because no candidate won a majority in the multicandidate races. Perdue led Ossoff by 1.8% in November but lost by 1.2% in January.

Over three-quarters of Republican voters said they thought there was widespread voter fraud in the presidential election, compared with 4% of Democratic voters, according to a poll conducted for the AJC.

Both elections saw significant turnout by Black voters, who overwhelmingly support Democrats. Just 8% fewer Black voters turned out for the runoffs, compared with an 11% decline among white voters.

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Voters in more populated areas saw billboards and street signs everywhere urging voters to turn out. Rural voters couldn’t miss TV ads that flooded the airwaves for the most expensive Senate races in U.S. history, exceeding $833 million total, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The get-out-the-vote message reached 228,000 new voters in the runoffs who hadn’t voted in the presidential election. About 41% of them were under 35 years old, and most were racial minorities.

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One of the new runoff voters, Sativa Patel of Buckhead, turned 18 years old in December, making her eligible to vote in the Jan. 5 election.

“Being able to vote was super important to me, and I’ve always been excited to be able to vote,” Patel said. “I think that the turnout is mostly from people who this past year realized how poorly the pandemic was handled.”

Another voter, Faberge Green of Stonecrest, said she couldn’t vote in November’s election because election officials didn’t process her change of address after moving from Savannah.

She voted in the runoffs despite her doubts about the legitimacy of the general election.

“The same voting machines were used, and those things weren’t any good. I believe it’s a selection, not an election,” said Green, a 49-year-old surgical technologist. “But I didn’t want to take my chances. I wanted to try.”

Georgia and county election officials say allegations of significant voter fraud are false. They checked the results of the presidential election with machine recounts, a manual audit of every ballot, an audit of voting machines, and an audit of absentee ballot envelope signatures.

The official results of the runoffs quantified the extent of the shift from Republicans to Democrats. After trailing by more than 47,000 votes in November, the Democratic Party Senate candidates won by over 54,000 votes each in the runoffs.