Abrams puts big pressure on early personal vote amid new election laws

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DECATUR, Ga. (TBEN) — Georgia Democrat nominee Stacey Abrams for governor is launching an intense effort to get the vote out by urging potential supporters to vote in person in the first week of the early vote as she tries to navigate by the state’s new electoral laws.

The strategy, outlined to The The Bharat Express News by Abrams’ top staffers, is a shift from 2018, when she spent liberally in her first gubernatorial effort to encourage voters to use mailed ballots. It also deviates from the Democrats’ emphasis on postal voting, a push that gave Georgian electoral votes to President Joe Biden and helped Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff win concurrent elections in the US Senate to give Democrats control of the Capitol. Hill to give.

Republicans, including Abrams’ opponent, Gov. Brian Kemp, responded in 2021 with sweeping election changes that, among other things, drastically curtailed ballot drop boxes, added creases to ballot papers and ballot return forms, and made it easier to challenge an individual voter’s eligibility. But it also expanded personal mood.

“Obviously, we need to have a big early vote personally,” Abrams campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said, arguing that the new mail voting procedures make it risky for Democrats to rely too much on that option. “What’s not obvious,” Groh-Wargo continued, “is how the hell you do that.”

This mid-season primaries have suggested a national decline in postal voting, peaking in 2020 due to COVID-19. Yet Abrams’s approach, shared by some liberal voting rights activists, represents a linchpin of Democrats’ pre-COVID tactics and shows how the left intends to try and maximize their votes in jurisdictions where Republicans retain control of the election procedures.

Abrams’ push, timed to begin a month before the early voting begins, comes with some polls suggesting she’s chasing Kemp a bit after losing their first matchup by about 55,000 votes out of 4 million.

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Beginning Sunday, the Democrat campaign will ask supporters to commit to vote at in-person polls during the first week of early voting, which begins Oct. 17. The campaign sends digital pledge cards to targeted supporters via email and text, with direct mail to follow. Field workers will ask voters to fill out engagement cards, with 2 million households scheduled for in-person visits. And the Abrams campaign will make pledge cards a standard part of its campaign events.

The week one commitment, where a voter goes beyond simply casting a vote before the early voting ends on Nov. 4, is intentional. After adding a person’s pledge to their profile in the campaign’s voter database, Abrams’ team will use publicly available turnout data to identify anyone who hasn’t responded or has had trouble casting a vote. Anyone barred from early voting will be forwarded to the Georgia Democrats’ voter protection operation.

“If they can’t vote successfully, there’s still plenty of time to make sure their votes can be cast,” said Esosa Osa, senior adviser to the campaign. “That becomes much more difficult when we talk about voting on Election Day.”

Groh-Wargo said that’s better than having ballots rejected or waiting until election day and, under new laws, not getting a preliminary vote until Nov. 8, with no other recourse.

Georgian Democrats are not completely abandoning postal voting. The state party’s campaign and Abrams combined have targeted 500,000 trustworthy Democratic voters to vote by mail. They were identified based on their long history of using that method, rather than anything they did starting in 2018 when Democrats emphasized a mail and absenteeism process that Georgian Republicans had previously dominated.

In her first campaign against Kemp, Abrams took the unusual step of sending nearly completed ballot papers to 1.6 million Georgians whom her campaign identified as sporadic but Democratic-oriented voters — a tactic that even the most ambitious one-time mailers employed by previous Democratic presidential campaigns. At a cost close to seven figures, Abrams knew it would be inefficient; such applications generally elicit participation of less than 10% of participants.

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But the campaign identified tens of thousands of new voters from the effort. Abrams ultimately defeated Kemp by 53,709 votes, although she lost the early personal vote by 19,895 and Election Day by nearly 94,000. She won about two-thirds of the more than 10,000 preliminary ballots. She ended up about 19,000 votes short of forcing a runoff, as Georgian law requires a majority to win statewide offices.

The 2021 Republicans vote review bans the type of mailing Abrams sent, allowing only blank state-issued forms. They now need a voter ID — a state ID number or a photocopy of the ID — and a voter’s birthday. Much of the information has to be repeated with the returned ballot, raising the possibility of more mismatches that could lead to the ballot being thrown away.

Groh-Wargo would offer no specific target for early vote turnout. But she said Abrams’ early in-person support in 2018 — 930,131 of her 1.92 million votes — fell short of internal targets. Yet Abrams’ total tally, even in defeat, surpassed any Democrat in Georgia’s history at the time. It was overshadowed by Biden, Warnock and Ossoff as the overall electorate continued to grow.

“All of that makes early voting so much more important,” said Nsé Ufot, who now leads the New Georgia Project, a voting rights group Abrams founded when she was a young state legislator.

Redesigning voter turnout plans, Groh-Wargo said, doesn’t change Democrats’ underlying need to expand the electorate if they hope to win in a historically conservative-oriented state like Georgia. That means many of the 1.6 million households that received Abrams’ ballot paper in 2018 and did not vote will still be visited about early in-person voting.

That expansion strategy, Ufot said, still faces skepticism from some Democratic donors. “It’s so obvious that people have no idea how 2020 happened or 2018 for that matter,” Ufot said.

Pressure behind the scenes has increased, Ufot said, with polls conducted since early July pointing to either a tight race or a narrow lead for Kemp. Groh-Wargo said she hears the story of Abram’s “wrestling.” She acknowledged a “nasty environment” for Democrats given global inflation and Biden being less popular in Georgia than when he won the state. But the concern, she said, remains rooted in misunderstanding Abrams’ path.

“Many of our constituencies are ‘persuasion voters,'” Groh-Wargo said. That doesn’t mean voters are flipping, she said, because they don’t choose between Abrams and Kemp — they decide whether to support Abrams or not vote at all.

Still, Ufot said, the dynamics put tremendous pressure on Abrams and her campaign to succeed, so the left-wing donor base doesn’t begin altering voter turnout networks it says are needed to tap into diverse voters in traditionally Republican states.

“This is going to be a game of centimeters,” she said. “We just need to widen the aperture to see what’s going on here.”

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