Stacey Abrams Makes Big Push For Early In-Person Voter Turnout Amid New Election Laws

DECATUR, Ga. (AP) – Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s Democratic candidate for governor, is launching an intense get-out-the-vote effort by urging potential supporters to vote in person in the first week of early voting as she tries to navigate new election laws in the state

The strategy, described to The Associated Press by top Abrams aides, is a shift from 2018, when he spent lavishly in his first run for governor to encourage voters to use mail-in ballots. It also departs from Democrats’ pandemic-era emphasis on mail-in voting, a push that delivered Georgia’s electoral votes to President Joe Biden and helped Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff win schools running for the United States Senate to give Democrats control of the Capitol.

Republicans, including Abrams’ opponent, Gov. Brian Kemp, responded in 2021 with sweeping election changes that, among other provisions, drastically reduced drop boxes for mail-in ballots, added wrinkles to applications of postal votes and ballot return forms and facilitated the challenge. the eligibility of an individual voter. But it also expanded in-person voting.

“Clearly, we need to have a lot of in-person early voting,” Abrams campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said, arguing that the new mail-in voting procedures make it risky for Democrats to rely too much on this option “What’s not obvious,” Groh-Wargo continued, “is how the hell you do it.”

Primary elections this midterm season have suggested a national decline in mail-in voting, which increased in 2020 due to COVID-19. Still, Abrams’ approach, which is shared by some liberal voting rights activists, represents a pivot from Democrats’ pre-COVID-19 tactics and demonstrates how the left is intent on trying to maximize their votes in jurisdictions where Republicans maintain control of electoral procedures.

Abrams’ push, scheduled to begin a month before early voting begins, comes with some polls suggesting he is slightly ahead of Kemp after losing their first matchup by about 55,000 out of 4 million votes.

Starting Sunday, the Democratic campaign will ask supporters to pledge to vote at in-person polling locations during the first week of early voting, which opens on Oct. 17. The campaign will send digital pledge cards to targeted supporters via email and text, with direct mail. mail to follow Field workers will ask voters to fill out engagement cards, with 2 million households slated for face-to-face visits. And the Abrams campaign will make pledge cards a standard part of its campaign events.

The first week’s commitment, with one voter going beyond simply pledging to cast a ballot before early voting ends on Nov. 4, is intentional. After adding a person’s pledge to their profile in the campaign’s voter database, Abrams’ team will use publicly available turnout data to identify anyone who didn’t follow through or had trouble following through. to vote Anyone denied early voting access will be directed to the Georgia Democrats Voter Protection Operation.

“If they can’t successfully vote, there’s still a lot of time left to make sure their vote can be cast,” said Esosa Osa, senior campaign adviser. “That becomes much more difficult when we talk about Election Day voting.”

Groh-Wargo said that’s better than rejecting mail-in ballots or waiting until Election Day and, under the new laws, not getting a provisional ballot until the end of Nov. 8, with no other recourse.

Georgia Democrats aren’t abandoning mail-in voting entirely. The state party and Abrams’ campaign together have targeted 500,000 reliable Democratic voters to vote by mail. They identified themselves based on their long history of using this method, rather than anything they did after 2018, when Democrats emphasized a mail-in and absentee process that Georgia Republicans had previously dominated.

In his first campaign against Kemp, Abrams took the unusual step of sending nearly completed mail-in ballot applications to 1.6 million Georgians his campaign identified as infrequent but Democratic-aligned voters, a tactic that outperformed even the most ambitious email messages sent in one shot. presidential campaigns. With a cost approaching seven figures, Abrams knew it would be inefficient; these applications generally attract the participation of less than 10% of participants.

But the campaign identified tens of thousands of new voters for the effort. Abrams ended up besting Kemp in mail-in support by 53,709 votes, though he lost the early in-person vote by 19,895 and the Election Day vote by nearly 94,000. He won about two-thirds of more than 10,000 provisional ballots. He finished with about 19,000 votes to force a runoff, as Georgia law requires a majority to win statewide office.

The Republicans’ 2021 ballot overhaul bans the type of mail Abrams sent, allowing only blank state-issued forms. They now require voter ID (a state ID number or photocopy of ID) and the voter’s birthday. Much of the information must be repeated with the returned ballot, creating the possibility of further mismatches that could result in the ballot being discarded.

Groh-Wargo would not offer a specific early voting participation target. But he said Abrams’ early in-person support in 2018 β€” 930,131 of his 1.92 million votes β€” fell short of internal targets. However, Abrams’ total, even with the loss, surpassed any Democrat in Georgia history at the time. He was eclipsed by Biden, Warnock and Ossoff as the general electorate continued to grow.

“All of this makes early voting that much more important,” said NsΓ© Ufot, who now heads the New Georgia Project, a voting rights group that Abrams founded when she was a young state legislator.

Ufot said his outlet and others like it are pushing in-person early voting in their outreach efforts. The New Georgia Project, he said, has registered 30,000 new voters and knocked on 1.3 million doors since the 2021 Senate runoff, with 1 million more expected by Nov. 8.

Redesigning voter turnout plans, Groh-Wargo said, doesn’t change Democrats’ underlying need to expand the electorate if they hope to win in a historically conservative state like Georgia. That means many of the 1.6 million households who received Abrams’ mail-in ballot request in 2018 and didn’t vote will still receive an in-person early voting visit.

That expansion strategy, Ufot said, is still met with skepticism among some Democratic donors. “It’s so clear that people have no idea what happened in 2020 or 2018,” Ufot said.

Behind-the-scenes pressure has intensified, Ufot said, with polls since early July suggesting a close race or a narrow lead for Kemp. Groh-Wargo said he feels Abrams’ storytelling is “struggling.” He acknowledged an “unpleasant environment” for Democrats given global inflation and Biden being less popular in Georgia than when he won the state. But the concern, he said, remains rooted in a misunderstanding of Abrams’ path.

“Many of our constituencies are ‘persuasion voters,'” Groh-Wargo said. That doesn’t mean voters are switching, he said, because they’re not choosing between Abrams and Kemp; they are deciding whether to support Abrams or not vote at all.

Still, Ufot said, the dynamic put enormous pressure on Abrams and his campaign to succeed lest the left’s donor base begin to shift voter engagement networks, which he said are necessary to take advantage of several electorates in traditionally republican states.

“This is going to be a game of inches,” he said. “We just have to widen the opening to see what’s at stake here.”

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