MDJ: Early voting numbers dwarf 2014 turnout; politicos weigh in

Early voting numbers dwarf 2014 turnout; politicos weigh in

Ross Williams

Election Day is Tuesday, but for thousands of Cobb County residents, their civic duty is already done.

This year, 111,882 Cobb voters cast their ballots early in person, according to unofficial numbers from the Cobb Elections Department.

That’s nearly a 90 percent increase over the last midterm election in 2014, when 59,134 Cobb voters came to the polls early.

There were 17 days of early voting this year, two of them Saturdays, while in 2014, there was only one Saturday and 16 total early voting days.

No major incidents were reported this year, but there were long lines, and voters waited up to three hours during the busiest times.

Cobb Elections Director Janine Eveler said she is happy with how things turned out. She said poll workers were happy to see the big crowds, though she does wish the department had arranged to have a second polling location open the first week.

During that week, only the county elections headquarters was open for early voting. The next week, Jim R. Miller Park became available, and in the third and final week, nine more spots opened up.

“I think overall it went well, although I wish we had arranged to have Jim Miller Park for the first week as well,” Eveler said. “Our Main Office is a little too small to handle that kind of turnout. We always expand our locations from few to many as the three weeks go along, but this election was unique in that there were so few people who were undecided, even in the first week of voting. … We knew this would be an exciting midterm so we offered all our locations, even some we normally only use in presidential years, and also extended hours.”

Eveler said there is a snowball effect to early voting — when people see long lines, they are more likely to get in lines themselves, making the lines even longer. But she said that may be good news for those planning to vote on Election Day.

“If people see lines to early vote, they figure they better get theirs done too,” she said. “They worry that early voting lines mean there’ll be lines on Election Day and it becomes important not to wait until Tuesday. In reality, the higher turnout in early voting reduces lines on Election Day.”

If you are one of those who plan to cast a ballot on Tuesday, you can do so between 7 a.m. And 7 p.m. Remember you must vote at your assigned polling location — you can find that at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov — and don’t forget to bring your photo ID.

Eveler also said to be sure to double-check your ballot before submitting and to report any irregularities to poll workers before casting your ballot.

Cobb party chiefs react

Perhaps nobody in the county has been paying more attention to the early voting numbers than the heads of the two major parties, Michael Owens of the Cobb Democrats and Jason Shepherd of the Cobb GOP.

Both men said they were glad to see people taking part, but neither dared to predict what the turnout might mean for their parties.

“I think it means the voters are engaged,” Shepherd said. “The question is: Is it our voters who are engaged, or their voters who are engaged? Right now it’s looking like everyone’s voters are engaged.”

Owens and Shepherd both spoke to the MDJ by phone from different last-minute get-out-the-vote efforts, capping off a long election cycle.

Owens said Cobb Democrats are working hard to capitalize on trends indicating the county may be moving toward the Democratic column, citing, among other points, that Cobb voters chose Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in the 2016 election. He would not say whether he thinks the change will come this year, but he believes it’s coming.

“Cobb County is a red-to-blue county,” he said. “We know we’re trending toward blue. There’s a large part of the county that is already blue and that continues to grow. What we’ve historically considered red is definitely flipping, going up all the way to north Cobb County, up to Acworth. We have a solid trend toward Cobb County turning blue, and we’re going to continue trending toward blue.”

Owens said gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams’ historic candidacy plays a role in that— if she wins, she will be the first African-American woman to govern any American state. But he said a solid stable of Democratic candidates up and down the ballot has encouraged Democratic voters to turn out in Cobb.

“It’s an opportunity for Democrats to vote for Democrats on the ballot in every part of the county,” he said. “Historically, that hasn’t been the case. … We have contested races in every single part of the county. … Not only do we support Stacey Abrams and (lieutenant governor candidate) Sarah Riggs Amico, but we’re actually engaging voters, talking about our candidates for state House … we have taken a focused effort to ensure we have good candidates across the county.”

Shepherd said he is well aware of the work Democrats have been putting in to flip Cobb County, referencing recent trips to town by big names such as former President Barack Obama, comedian Will Ferrell and media mogul Oprah Winfrey to stump for Abrams.

“The amount of effort Democrats are making in Cobb County, they see Cobb County as a big prize, Cobb being historically a Republican county, but one that went a little purple the last election cycle,” Shepherd said. “Democrats are working very hard to flip it. … They think Cobb is in play, and the Cobb Republican party is doing everything it can to make sure we can get out and show them Cobb isn’t in play. We’ll find out on Election Day.”

Shepherd acknowledged it is typical for the party in control of the White House to lose seats in a midterm election, but he wasn’t ready to accept a blue wave yet.

“The Democrats are really trying to push the blue wave, and the Republican Party is trying to stand out with a red wall to stop it,” he said. “They talk about waves; we talk about wave breakers.”