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Monday, April 19, 2021

With Struggle Over the Vote Intensifying in a Chilly Georgia, Democrats Push for Early Turnout

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Zaipan Irakli, a 28-year-old engineer who has been living in Atlanta for two years, was the most patient man at a Democratic headquarters on Atlanta’s west side on Friday, waiting more than three hours in line to cast his ballot.

“I need my country back,” he said. “I have two families who were born in Georgia. I’m part of the state.”

On a day of intense civic engagement, many Georgians skipped travel to neighboring states in an effort to vote early and avoided likely delays that those in line could face on Election Day. Voter rolls appeared to be working smoothly in Atlanta, where about one-third of ballots have already been cast. But unlike the 2016 election, when black voters in Atlanta waited more than an hour to vote, Mr. Irakli said he wouldn’t wait much longer.

“I guess after this election, everybody is going to be prepared to wait,” he said.

At least 3.7 million Georgians have already voted in person or by mail, Election Protection, a nonprofit that helps voters in minority communities, said in a survey of their early turnout.

The group, working with local election officials, said many voters were still waiting to vote in Tallahassee, home to the Florida governor’s mansion. Georgia’s governor, Nathan Deal, is seeking a second term.

Georgians had long been frustrated by low turnout and logistical snags. About 36 percent of eligible residents voted in the 2014 primary election. But with the stakes this time higher — 33 out of 50 states have competitive races, including Georgia’s gubernatorial contest — Democrats are more focused on their message: State leaders have clashed over a massive tax cut for wealthy and corporations and a recent abortion ban, leading to a sharp increase in Republican activism, with Republicans fighting back against the Democrat’s outreach efforts.

“Georgia’s energy and enthusiasm is amazing, and we’re not just talking about any old candidate this time around,” Alex Sink, a former state banking commissioner and banking commissioner of Florida, told more than 1,000 supporters at a rally Friday in Fort Benning, outside Atlanta. “We have our state government at stake.”

In many areas of Georgia, however, Republican-friendly electorate polls are healthy — 61 percent said they trust the GOP more than Democrats to do a better job handling taxes and taxes and 43 percent said they trusted the GOP more to handle gun laws.

Those numbers make the competitiveness of the contest this year something of a novelty: for the first time in decades, no two-term incumbent party is assured of retaining the governorship in Georgia.

In Columbia County, a mostly white rural county that Democrats think will lean blue in Tuesday’s election, one hundred voters stood in line at the back of the Woodmore fairgrounds, east of Atlanta, when the polls opened at 7 a.m. For voters, Saturday is a source of pride, as the early-voting voting period doesn’t run on weekends.

As votes were cast, at least one young male Democratic volunteer arrived with a cantaloupe stand in a bid to attract the voters’ morning beans. For one housewife from Tallahassee, she said it was “peaceful” to cast her ballot, but she’d done it “from start to finish.”

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