Social Explorer Case Study: Early Voting Locations in Georgia Special Senate Election
MONDAY, MAY 16, 2022
Cobb County, Ga., elections officials sought to reduce the number of early voting locations for a Jan. 5, 2021, special election for the state’s two U.S. Senate seats. There were 11 early voting sites available for the 2020 general election; the suburban Atlanta county’s plan would have reduced the number to five. A consortium of civil rights organizations that included the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia argued that the reduction in early voting sites would prevent thousands of Black and Latino residents from being able to vote.
The issue had national implications. If the Democratic candidates both won, the Democrats would control the Senate; if one Republican candidate won, the Republicans would control the Senate. In addition, Cobb County, which has more than 760,000 residents, is a Democratic stronghold by Georgia standards. President Joe Biden defeated incumbent Donald Trump by a 56-42 percent margin in the county, and both Democratic candidates took comfortable pluralities in the county during the Nov. 3 general election.
Social Explorer used data from the 2014-18 American Community Survey to demonstrate the effects of the reduction on minority communities. Even with 11 early voting locations, some residents had to wait as long as 10 hours to cast ballots in the November general election. The Social Explorer analysis found that 48 percent of Cobb County residents are minorities.
The Social Explorer analysis found that the proposal would have especially affected Black neighborhoods in the southern half of Cobb County. In the November election, there had been four early voting polling places available in the area; the county’s proposal would have reduced the number to one. In addition, some voters in Black and Latino neighborhoods would have needed to make a three-hour round-trip via public transportation at the nearest open location.
The consortium argued that “the elimination of advance voting locations will discourage or prevent many of Cobb County’s Black and Latinx voters from participating in the runoff election,” the consortium wrote in a Dec. 7 letter to Cobb County officials, citing the Social Explorer analysis.
County officials, who had initially claimed they didn’t have enough staff to operate all 11 locations announced on Dec. 9, however, that they would add one early voting site and two more during the third week of early voting, including a site that would serve a significant number of Black and Latino voters. An NAACP attorney described the changes as “certainly an improvement over the county’s initial plan and helps ensure that all eligible voters can freely and safely exercise their constitutional right to vote.”
More than 114,000 people voted early in the Jan. 5 special election. Democrat Jon Ossoff, boosted by 67,553 advanced voting ballots, defeated his Republican opponent by roughly 43,000 votes. Democrat Raphael Warnock got 68,055 advanced ballots and defeated the Republican candidate by 49,000 votes. The victories resulted in a 50-50 split in the U.S. Senate between Democrats and Republicans, with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris available to break ties in party-line votes.
Andrew Beveridge, president and co-founder of Social Explorer, said he was “pleased that our tools are being used to ensure that our election process – the bedrock of our democracy – is open to all Americans, regardless of race or ethnicity.”