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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Why early voting scares Eric: The untold story

A couple weeks back, the AJC's esteemed Jim Galloway ran a blog item that had Georgia politicos buzzing. In it, he quoted Senate Majority Leader Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, attacking the state's new early voting program as a vehicle for voter fraud. Johnson called early voting "a mistake" and explained that it gave cheaters extra time "to go out there and pick up homeless people, and carry them to the polls, and register cats."

click to enlarge Sen. Eric Johnson
  • Sen. Eric Johnson

Putting aside for a moment the fact that homeless people have as much legal right to vote as anyone else, Johnson's statements were jaw-droppingly ironic because early voting in Georgia was a Republican initiative that party strategists believed would give the GOP an advantage at the polls. Statistics have shown that absentee voting is more popular among Republicans than Democrats. Therefore, the reasoning went, if absentee voting were extended to a month and folks no longer had to give an excuse to get an absentee ballot, then early voting could serve as an effective, state-subsidized get-out-the-vote effort for the GOP.

But it doesn't seem to be working out that way.

As the numbers show on the Secretary of State's website and in today's AJC, about 12 percent of the state's registered voters have already taken advantage of early voting, and — in a break with previous elections, in which blacks typically make up only a quarter of the total turnout — nearly 36 percent of early voters have been African American. It's a safe bet those folks did not vote a straight GOP ticket.

But what really might have Eric spooked are some stats that haven't appeared in the AJC, although they have access to them. As of this morning, 757,000 voters had cast early ballots. According to information contained in the Secretary of State database, a full 35 percent of those early voters also voted in the 2008 Democratic primary, compared to nearly 27 percent having taken part in the GOP primary. Another 38 percent didn't vote in either 2008 primary.

What do these numbers mean? Well, it's my guess that almost everyone — say, 95 percent — who voted in the Democratic primary will be casting a ballot for Obama. On the other hand, I'm willing to wager that McCain has slightly less appeal for Republican primary voters, maybe 85 or 90 percent. As for those who didn't vote in the primaries — they still went to the trouble of voting early, so I'm guessing the majority of them are newly registered voters. And most new voters, even in Georgia, are likely to vote Democrat…

In other words, with eight days left for early and advance voting, the program seems to be a complete disaster for the Georgia GOP. That doesn't, of course, excuse Johnson's inflammatory statements, for which he offered no evidence. But they do provide a textbook example of why the Republican Party has such a tough time recruiting African Americans. And cats.

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