Georgia Reports High Teen Voter Turnout for Midterm Election

The state of Georgia is ranked 38 in voter turnout during the midterm races among all 50 U.S. States and the District of Columbia, but Georgia’s percentage of young voters, between the ages of 18 and 24, ranks in the top 20. Westminster students, including those that are not yet 18, are interested in their state politics and the effects the results of the midterms will have on Georgia. Midterm elections took place on November 6 and helped determined the political course of the next few years.
The 2018 Georgia midterm races were very widely publicized through extra advertisements for the gubernatorial race that attracted a lot of media attention. For the last 15 years, Georgia’s governor has been Republican, and Brian Kemp ran for governor wanting to keep that streak alive. This year’s tight margin in votes between the Republican and Democratic candidates meant advertisements had the potential to greatly impact the results.
“I think the Democrats had a chance to win,” said senior Grant Matzigkeit. “The gubernatorial race put in a lot of funding. A lot of it was out of state, but nevertheless they put in a lot of money because these are ways that they could have won.”
Democrat Stacey Abrams ran with hopes of being the nation’s first black female governor. With such high stakes, the publicity for the gubernatorial race was intended to be widespread. Many voters, called the base, already vote in one way or another. However, advertisement aims to motivate and persuade new and undecided voters.
“I think it’s good that the midterms are getting a lot of attention in the media because the main goal was to get a greater voter turnout,” said senior Elizabeth Wise. “Because a lot of other people don’t really see why they should go out and vote, especially for people who can just now vote like seniors that are my age, it helped that this year everything was more prevalent in the media.”
How much publicity is too much, though? Media operates along a fine line. Advertisements must find the balance between informing and annoying. Too much persuasion can quickly become overwhelming.
“I tend to think that advertising has diminishing returns,” said Upper School history teacher Matthew Munday. “In many situations there comes a point where there’s information overload where people have already seen this commercial or people already are aware of all the information that is out there, and it stops being persuasive and in some ways becomes dissuasive.”
The expenses in the gubernatorial race were the largest we’ve seen in a Georgia midterm. Over the past decade, there have been ever-increasing expenses across every election cycle with the state Republican and Democratic parties raising a combined 34 million dollars. In addition, the candidates for governor collected 66 million dollars of which 43 million came from Kemp and Abrams. In this race, much of the funding came from outside sources, such as endorsements for both candidates. National figures such as Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Oprah Winfrey helped fund and aggrandize the candidates.
All this publicity was finally resolved on Friday, November 16 when at last all the votes had been counted. Brian Kemp became Georgia’s governor-elect with 50.3 percent of the votes and 58,150 votes more than Stacey Abrams. The results of the gubernatorial race had been on hold for days as Abrams wanted a recount because there was a conflict of interest in the election–namely that Kemp was in charge of the voting law in Georgia as former secretary of state of Georgia. If neither candidate had received more than 50 percent of the total votes, the race would’ve been forced into a runoff. However, the state officially verified the results of the November 6 governor election.
Each candidate had certain issues that they held important and chose to zone in on closer to the election. Kemp focused more on the safeguarding of the ballot and other traditional values his campaign held such as gun rights. These issues, for many people, became key in which way they voted.
“I think Kemp appealed to a lot of people in rural Georgia, especially with some of those ads that were very conservative and pro-gun,” said Matzigkeit. “I think that gave him a big fan base down there, but I think that also created a lot of opposition for people who aren’t really for that.”
For senior Elizabeth Wise, gun violence is a very important issue. She is a part of March for Our Lives Georgia, an organization dedicated to standing up to gun lobbying. Wise also works with other organizations such as Everytown, a gun safety organization, and HeadCount, which helps with voter education.
Kemp’s stance on gun laws is against new gun restrictions. He backs “constitutional carry” which permits owners to conceal and carry handguns without a permit. Kemp is also interested in ending some “gun-free” zones.
“I’m young and something that affects me most right now is guns,” said Wise. “Personally, since I’m super involved with gun sense, and Kemp is not exactly on the same path as I would be, I think that that would be a step back from having a safer environment at school or just like feeling safe in general in public places.”
Upon Kemp being officially voted, Georgia’s residents have changes that they expect to see under his term. Being from Athens, many believe improvements for rural Georgia are in store during Kemp’s term.
“Hopefully if he sticks to what he says, I’d like to see rural Georgia do better. He’s very focused on getting health care and education and internet and promoting small businesses in rural Georgia, and I’d really love to see that happen,” said senior Katherine Hennessy.
An important role of governor is to manage the state’s 26 billion dollar annual budget. Budget and taxes were another deciding issue for the candidates, and Kemp plans to limit state spending, cut income taxes, and increase teacher pay.
“I think he’s going to take plans to cut state spending and I think he’s going to make tax codes on small businesses,” said Matzigkeit.
Abrams, as the election neared, focused her campaign on voter suppression and the legacy of access to the ballot. Georgia, as a southern state, has a history of voter discrimination. Because of this, voter rights is a topic of great relevance to residents.
Georgia was subject to the Voting Rights Act up until 2013. The Act required the seeking of pre-clearance by the Justice Department before any changes to election laws were made. The Voting Rights Act was meant to prevent any election laws being changed in ways that were discriminatory towards segments of the population.
“The state no longer needs Federal approval before they do that, so when you see States like Georgia have a variety of laws in place which are on face intended to safeguard the election such as the exact match law and voter ID laws, that are meant to stop voter fraud, I do think that we should be cautious when we take into consideration voting safeguards to make sure that we aren’t causing unnecessary trade-offs that result in a substantial number of people receiving an undue burden when they seek to access the ballot,” said Munday.
Munday also brought into question that Kemp, at the time of the election, acted as secretary of state in Georgia. As secretary of state, during the election cycle he put 53,000 voter registration petitions on hold, 70% of those belonging to African Americans because of the exact match system.
“To me,” said Munday, “This is something we should pay attention to, not necessarily to say this was an obvious attempt at voter suppression, but sometimes there are unintended consequences to the decisions that we make in public office.”
From a position of power, actions have much greater consequences. Voter suppression is an issue close to the hearts of many.
“I think voter suppression is very real,” said Wise. “We’re seeing it a lot in Georgia, especially in the counties closer to Columbus or Savannah where you would find more and more ethnic groups represented. They just don’t get to be represented as much.”
Where voting is concerned, there’s also the debate between electronic versus paper balloting. The ease of electronic balloting with digital tracking will always be there in terms of counting the votes, and it provides a level of accountability with including every vote. However, questions about the secureness of technology and access to electronic balloting always exist.
“I am, in principle, more of a fan of electronic balloting if it is done securely and has safeguards in place because I think that the history of paper balloting, I mean even right now, you can look at certain elections such as in Florida where there are still uncalled elections and controversies over whether or not certain votes are being counted,” said Munday. “Then again, you always run into new issues about side meddling in elections that only electronic voting would have to deal with. Still, I think on the whole electronic balloting is probably the inevitable future of elections.”
Though the gubernatorial race was the most publicized race, other races were just as close and important to Georgia’s citizens. The race for the representative of Georgia’s sixth congressional district between Democrat Lucy McBath and Republican Karen Handel came down to 3,264 votes. Finalized two days after election day, McBath was determined the winner with 50.5% of the votes.
“I was watching that race pretty closely,” said Wise. “Especially, because Lucy McBath’s son is a victim of gun violence, so the organizations I work with were very focused on her campaign.”
Hennessy’s congressman representing the fifth congressional district of Georgia, John Lewis, ran unopposed, but she was very invested in the race for secretary of state. Georgia’s secretary of state race will go to a runoff. Republican Brad Raffensperger and Democrat John Barrow were both unable to get above 50 percent of the votes as libertarian Smythe Duval also received 86,431 votes. The runoff will take place between Raffensperger and Barrow on December 4.
“I voted for the libertarian because he wanted to invest ranked choice voting in Georgia,” said Hennessy. “I think that would be a good idea because if we’d had ranked choice voting, we wouldn’t have ended up with the two candidates we ended up with for governor and I think that would be better.”
Ranked choice voting would give residents in Georgia the power to list candidates in order from favorite to least favorite. Duval, no longer in the running for secretary of state, has endorsed Barrow for secretary of state, and Georgia will see in the upcoming runoff who will take Kemp’s place as secretary of state.
In contrast to the many close position races, a trend from the 2018 Georgia midterms was that every ballot measure, both amendments and referendums, passed with fairly large margins. Many believe that the reasons for this trend are the fact that they’re written out on the ballot in technical, legal language, so they may be harder to understand if the voter is not previously aware of what the amendments and referendums are about. A few voters may not even be aware that there are ballot measures to vote for.
“If you know the amendment and you’re for it, you’re going to go for it, but if you don’t know the amendment, I mean, it’s a very short blurb and it’s all in legalese,” said Hennessy. “There’s probably a lot of campaigning to get an amendment passed and not a lot to not get an amendment passed.”
The most publicized amendment went by the name of Marsy’s Law or Rights for Crime Victims. Essentially, The Amendment supported crime victims in Georgia having more rights such as updated information on their case and the right to be included in every court proceeding, and it passed with 80.9 percent of voters for it. The amendment affords crime victims rights such as the right to accurate and timely notice of any scheduled court proceedings or escape of the accused. It also approved victims to have the right to file written objections or be heard in any court or parole proceedings.
“I think there are certain parts of Marsy’s Law that are good like making people aware of when a criminal that did something to them is up for parole, but I also thought it could hinder attempts to reintegrate people back into society after being in jail because there may be an uproar from somebody who was hurt by them,” said Hennessy. “I’m not saying that it’s easy to forgive someone, I know that there’s a lot of emotion that surrounds it, but the Justice needs to be kept and it shouldn’t be swayed by people in the back of a courtroom getting emotional and preventing real Justice from happening.”
The results of the midterm affect everyone within the state of Georgia. The media and many National figures provided influence, as campaigns came to fruition on the monumental election day of November 6. Though some races took longer to determine, and others are still to come, the 3,931,443 people that made it out to vote helped determine the ways in which Georgia will progress over the next few years.