Early voting in Georgia continues at record pace entering final week

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (Photo by Beau Evans)

ATLANTA – Early voting turnout in Georgia soared past 1.5 million during the weekend, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger reported Monday.

Early voting has been setting records daily since the early voting period began two weeks ago, surging well past the turnout ahead of the last midterm election in 2018 and coming close to the early voting turnout before the presidential election two years ago.

“We encourage every eligible voter to get their ballot in this week,” Raffensperger said. “Most counties have multiple early voting locations open to serve the demand.”

Nearly 116,000 voters cast early ballots on Saturday and Sunday.

Meanwhile, absentee ballots have begun to come in in larger numbers after a much slower pace than 2020. As of Monday morning, 155,104 absentee ballots had been returned to county election offices. Only 1,054 ballots had been rejected statewide, and those voters receive cure notices explaining how they can cure any discrepancy.

Early voting turnout is expected to increase during the last week of the early voting period, which ends this Friday. To find early voting locations and hours in your county, visit the secretary of state’s My Voter Page.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Abrams, Kemp clash in second and final gubernatorial debate

ATLANTA – Abortion and guns took up much of the time Sunday night in the second and final debate of the fall campaign between Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams.

Abrams vowed to repeal the “heartbeat bill” if she is elected governor. The legislation, which the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed three years ago, bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically six weeks into a pregnancy.

The law didn’t take effect until this summer after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion as a constitutional right.

“Abortion is a medical decision that should be made between a doctor and a woman – not a politician,” Abrams said during the one-hour debate, which was aired live by WSB-TV in Atlanta.

Abrams said the law exposes women who have suffered the trauma of a miscarriage to investigation and potentially prosecution if authorities believe they had an illegal abortion.

Kemp said she misrepresented the legislation, which he helped steer to passage during his first year in office.

“Women are not going to be prosecuted under this piece of legislation,” he said. “Doctors who perform illegal abortions would be.”

The governor was asked whether he would support additional restrictions on abortion beyond the heartbeat bill, which allows exceptions for rape, incest, when the mother’s life is at risk, or if a serious medical condition renders a fetus unviable.

Kemp said he would not advocate additional restrictions on abortion but left open whether he would sign a bill the legislature might pass that is more restrictive than the 2019 law.

“It is not my desire to move the needle any further on this issue,” he said.

Kemp and Abrams also sparred over legislation the General Assembly enacted this year allowing Georgians to carry concealed firearms without a permit.

Abrams said the “constitutional carry” measure has made less safe a state that already has the ninth-highest rate of gun violence in the nation. Georgia law allows people to buy guns at gun shows or through private sales without a background check, and there’s no waiting period, she said.

“People are dying from gun violence in the state of Georgia,” Abrams said. “Children are dying.”

Kemp said the constitutional carry law lets law-abiding citizens protect themselves.

“Criminals don’t care what the laws are. They’ve already got the guns,” he said. “The problem was law-abiding citizens couldn’t get a danged permit from the local government … because of bureaucracy.”

Abrams and Kemp also renewed their arguments over the economy and election integrity that came up during their first debate two weeks ago.

Kemp said record low unemployment in Georgia is due to his decision to reopen businesses across the state during the early months of the COVID pandemic, well before most states.

The tax revenues generated by Georgia’s booming economy built up a record $6.6 billion budget surplus the governor used this year to cut taxes, a step he said he plans to repeat if he’s reelected.

Kemp said Abrams criticized his decision to reopen the state’s economy and instead called for dealing with COVID-19 with mask and vaccine mandates.

“We’re one additional COVID variant away from Ms. Abrams wanting to lock our state down,” he said.

Abrams said she advocated a more cautious approach to the pandemic than the governor.

“No one wants lockdowns. No one wants to have to shut down the economy,” she said. “But we should never put anyone’s life on the line just because we want to be first.”

Abrams accused Kemp of pushing a controversial election-reform bill through the legislature last year to reduce the number of black and brown voters following Democratic victories in Georgia during the last election cycle.

The law replaced the signature-match verification process for absentee ballots with an ID requirement and limited the number of ballot drop boxes.

Abrams said the legislation has led to more challenges being lodged against voters.

“Senate Bill 202 has allowed racist white supremacists to challenge the legal authority of citizens to vote,” she said. “It was never about making sure we had fair elections in Georgia. It was about gaming the election for Brian Kemp.”

Kemp said he created an online voter registration system while serving as Georgia’s secretary of state. Senate Bill 202 increased the number of early voting days in Georgia, including Sundays, he said.

The governor and other Republican leaders have pointed to record turnout across Georgia during the first week of early voting last week as proof the election reforms they championed are not putting an undue burden on voters.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Obama urges Georgians to turn out for Democrats

Former President Barack Obama spoke in Atlanta on Friday. (photo credit: Rebecca Grapevine)

ATLANTA- With just 10 days to go before the election, former President Barack Obama urged Georgia Democrats Friday to turn out for gubernatorial challenger Stacey Abrams, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and other Democrats down the ballot.  

Obama drew a stark contrast between Georgia’s Democratic and Republican candidates, arguing that Warnock and Abrams would best represent the interests of working Georgians.  

“The basic, one fundamental question you should be asking yourself is who cares about you, who believes in you?” Obama told the cheering crowd. “That’s the choice in this election.”  

Obama lauded both Warnock, who is seeking a full term in the Senate, and Abrams, who is trying for a second time to beat Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.  

“You have Democrats like Rev. Warnock who have shown they will take on the drug companies to lower prices and get the oil industry to clean up its act and pass laws to make housing more affordable and make sure that corporations bring jobs here into Georgia instead of overseas,” Obama said.  

“[Abrams is] focused on making sure every Georgian has an opportunity to get ahead. That’s why she wants to invest Georgia’s surplus in good schools, a higher standard of living and more affordable health care and housing.”  

Obama pointed to the two parties’ differences on abortion as another reason why Georgians should vote blue.  

“Who will fight for your freedoms?” he asked. “Is it gonna be GOP politicians, judges who think they get to decide when you start a family, how many children you have, who you marry? Or is it Democratic leaders who believe the freedom to make these personal intimate decisions belong to every American, not to politicians in Washington?”  

Obama warned that Republicans capturing control of both the U.S. House and Senate could put America just a presidential election away from a nationwide ban on abortion.   

“Most of the GOP … are not even pretending that the rules apply to them anymore,” he said. “Last year, Stacey’s opponent [Kemp] signed one of the most aggressive voter suppression laws.”  

“Democracy is at stake in this election. That’s why it’s not enough to elect Democrats at the top of the ticket. That’s why we need to work just as hard to elect secretaries of state like [Georgia Democratic candidate] Bee Nguyen.”  

Obama also zeroed in on recent serious allegations about Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker’s character and preparation for office.  

“Herschel Walker was a heck of a football player,” Obama said, referring to Walker’s star turn as a University of Georgia running back. “But Walker is not prepared to hold a Senate seat. Remember, these are issues of character. You deserve better.”  

State Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, who is running for Attorney General, and state Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta, who is running for Secretary of State, also spoke at the event.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Iconic Georgia Bulldogs coach Vince Dooley dies at 90

Vince Dooley

ATLANTA – Former University of Georgia football coach and athletics director Vince Dooley died Friday, just a day before the annual renewal of the Georgia-Florida football rivalry.

Dooley, 90, passed away peacefully at his home with his wife and their four children present, the university announced in an official statement.

Dooley coached the Bulldogs from 1964 through 1988 and served as athletic director from 1979 to 2004.

His tenure included a national championship in 1980, when the team was led by freshman sensation Herschel Walker at running back.

Dooley became the winningest football coach in Georgia history with 201 victories. Besides the national title, his teams also won six Southeastern Conference titles.

He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame as well as both the Georgia and Alabama halls of fame, having played quarterback at Auburn University in the early 1950s and later served as an assistant coach.

Dooley was hospitalized briefly earlier this month with what was described as a mild case of COVID but had declared himself fully recovered, the Associated Press reported.

Dooley also appeared earlier this month in a campaign ad for Walker, now a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

New scholarships named for Andrew Young designed to help students continue college educations

Former Ambassador Andrew Young speaking at Atlanta University Center (photo credit: Rebecca Grapevine).

ATLANTA – Former Ambassador Andrew Young, students and alumni, state legislators and civil rights leaders gathered on the steps of the Woodruff Library at Atlanta University Center Friday to celebrate the creation of a new scholarship program for students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).  

The new $5,000 Andrew Young HBCU Scholarships are designed to help students enrolled in HBCUs continue their educations.  

Surrounded by students, Young described having to work many jobs to put himself through college when he was a young man – but ultimately managing to graduate.  

“Now that won’t get you through the first two weeks,” he said, referring to the greatly increased cost of higher education today. Young said it is challenging for young people – among them his nine grandchildren – to afford college.  

Education publisher McGraw Hill provided seed money for the scholarship fund.

“When we have this kind of support from a major corporation …. we know it’s a good investment. It’s a good investment for them. And it’s certainly a good investment for us.”

Atlanta’s HBCUs have contributed to making Atlanta a nationally renowned civil rights center with a strong business climate, Young said.  

“It’s been this university complex that has created the brains that have drawn businesses here … that not only makes Atlanta great city, but I think it keeps even Georgia now a great nation,” Young said. “That’s why business is growing, that’s why we’ve got the world’s busiest airport.

State Reps. Dave Belton, R-Buckhead, and Mack Jackson, D-Sandersville, who helped spearhead the initiative for the scholarships, were also present.  

The two lawmakers cosponsored a resolution encouraging Georgia public schools to teach about the civil rights movement and especially Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who attended Morehouse College. The resolution won unanimous approval from the Georgia House of Representatives earlier this year. 

“I think everyone needs to hear … the words of Dr. King about peaceful resistance and non-violence is the best way to get there. I think that that resonates,” Belton said. 

The first group of scholarships will go to 10 students. Scholarship recipients will also complete a civil rights curriculum designed by the organization Good of All, a group that promotes universal human rights. 

The scholarships are designed to advance King’s, Young’s and other civil right leaders’ message of non-violent social change, said Matthew Daniels, founder of Good of All.  

Daniels said a new generation of civil rights leaders is needed to fight hate and violence in American society.   

“The only alternative we really have is to raise up a new generation that can go on offense for the good side – not defense against the bad,” said Daniels. “That’s why these young people are here.”  

Daniels noted that students who leave college often do so between the first and second year due to lack of relatively modest sums, around $5,000, the scholarship amount. The new scholarships are designed to help “plug the gap.”  

He and the other organizers plan for the scholarship program to grow each year.  

“Inoculating hearts and minds against the poisonous ideologies of racism and violence that we saw in Buffalo …. that’s why we’re doing this scholarship program,” Daniels said. “America needs these young people.” 

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.