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Elections Put New Voting Laws to the Test

America has one Senate contest from the 2022 midterm elections that remains undecided, requiring a runoff election December 6 in the southern U.S. state of Georgia where turnout was heavy last week despite new balloting restrictions that some observers had feared would depress turnout of poorer and minority voters.

“It was just a very successful election day,” Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told a press conference the day after the November 8 midterm contests in his state. Raffensperger, a Republican, said the state’s new voting laws did not impact turnout and that major snags on election day were avoided because a record number of people took advantage of pre-election day voting, such as absentee-by-mail and early in-person voting.

“We saw processing times to vote that led to two-minute average wait times across the state,” said the secretary of state. Georgia election officials said more votes were cast in the state in 2022 than in any prior midterm election.

Runoff in Georgia

In just weeks, voter turnout in Georgia will again be put to the test as Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock faces his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker. With more than 3.8 million total votes cast November 8, neither candidate received more than 50% of the vote in the three-way contest with a third-party candidate, triggering next month’s runoff election between the top two vote-getters.

The race between the two African American candidates has been the focus of national attention. Before the midterms, it was thought to be one of a handful of races that would decide which party controls the Senate for the next two years. Now, it will determine whether Democrats can boost their bare majority.

Getting out the vote one more time

The nation’s largest civil rights organization has launched efforts to once again mobilize Georgia’s African American and other minority voters who proved crucial in President Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential victory in the state as well as the 2021 runoff elections of two Democratic senators. It was a historic outcome in Georgia, which has been a reliably Republican state for decades.

“We still have work to do,” said Gerald Griggs, president of the NAACP Georgia state chapter. “Our folks made sure record numbers of African Americans got out and voted. But we have a runoff election and it is time for us to get back out there and mobilize.”

Suley Usman, from Smyrna, Georgia, cast his ballot 10 days before Election Day with no problems.

“I’m absolutely motivated to vote again in the runoff election,” he told VOA. “I want a say in who is elected.”

Amid a contentious political climate in which many prominent Republicans falsely alleged voter fraud gave President Biden his 2020 victory, Georgia was one of more than 20 Republican-led states that overhauled their election laws in 2021, in what officials promoted as an attempt to boost confidence in the integrity of balloting. The measures included strengthening identification requirements for mail-in voting, reducing the number of days for early voting and restricting access to ballot drop boxes.

Critics called the new laws unfair and thinly veiled attempts to discourage voting by the poor and minorities.

“These types of tactics aim to suppress votes,” said Andrea Hailey, CEO of Vote.org, in a statement quoted by The Associated Press on Monday. In response, the organization and other voter advocacy groups launched programs to educate voters and overcome any negative impact the new voting laws may have had on turnout.

“Georgians have shown they are ready and willing to navigate tough voting environments in order to make their voices heard,” Hailey said.

In the past, Georgia’s runoff contests were held nine weeks after Election Day, but this year the runoff campaign season has been shortened to four weeks, a time period that precludes new voter registrations.

Some voters have taken note.

“I absolutely believe there are actions being taken on the whole voting apparatus and process that don’t need to be taken,” said Usman. “I think being an educated voter is key.”

Turnout and voting

Across the country, tens of millions of American voters let their voices be heard last week — in record numbers for midterms in many states — despite predictions of possible political violence, voter intimidation and disenfranchisement. Overall, relatively few voting problems were reported.

“We in the voting rights community in Texas were fearing the worst,” said Anthony Gutierrez, director of Common Cause Texas. “For the most part, it didn’t happen.”

In Arizona, isolated issues with voting machines sparked baseless claims about fraud. State officials quickly denied the accusations and declared confidence in the integrity of the election.

In other parts of the country, many voters said they experienced few, if any, difficulties casting their ballots.

“I’m glad there were no complications,” said Bill Murphy, a voter in Prince George’s County, Maryland, who expected long lines at his polling location but completed the process in 10 minutes.

“It shows the people who run the elections here were prepared this time,” he added.


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