Runoff election in Georgia: “This time every single vote counts”

EThere are few things that Democrats and Republicans had in common this Tuesday in Georgia. One of them was the wish that the election campaign, which came to an end two months ago for the rest of the USA, should finally be over in Georgia as well: the barrage of TV spots, the never-ending robocalls, the daily knocking of the Campaigners on the front doors, the flood of flyers and supposedly handwritten postcards. In any case, he is happy “that the election campaign is now over,” says Steve Snipes after he has cast his vote, laughs briefly and takes a deep breath.

The last act of the American election drama of 2020/2021 took place on Tuesday. In Georgia, the two Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler had to face their Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in a runoff election.

Glad the campaign is over: Nell and Steve Snipes

Glad the campaign is over: Nell and Steve Snipes

Source: Katja Ridderbusch

Ossoff is a young, white film producer from Atlanta; Warnock is an African American and pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the Baptist church where civil rights activist Martin Luther King once preached. The election result decides which party will win control in the US Senate in the future – and how efficiently Joe Biden can govern as president.

Georgia has been a political hotspot since the presidential election in November, since the state voted for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in 28 years, becoming the swing state. President Donald Trump and his followers doubted the result, there were two recounts, a manual and a machine, and an official election check. That changed nothing in terms of the outcome – nor did Trump’s claim that he won the Georgia elections.

Although the first figures came in quickly on Tuesday after the polling stations closed, election observers did not expect a result until Wednesday.

A simple community center as a polling station: the Pittman Park Recreation Center

A simple community center as a polling station: the Pittman Park Recreation Center

Source: Katja Ridderbusch

As loud and shrill and dirty as the election campaign in Georgia was conducted until the last day, election day itself was as calm, almost suspiciously calm.

6:30 am, Pittman Park Recreation Center in southwest Atlanta, half an hour before polling stations open. The community center is adjacent to the railroad lines of the Norfolk Southern Railroad, a large freight train line with tracks running across town. Pittman Park is in a mostly black and mostly poor residential area; In many of the small wooden houses, the windows are boarded up with corrugated iron, there are wrecked cars in the front gardens, rubbish oozes out of tipped bins. It is pitch black and most of the street lamps are burned out.

On previous election days there was a long queue in front of the entrance at this time, but this morning it is empty. The polling station manager isn’t surprised; most people in this district went to early elections in the second half of December or voted by postal vote, he says. For today he expects “maybe 200 voters if it comes up”.

“We are prepared”

Together with a good ten election workers, technicians and security guards, he is patiently waiting for voters this morning. And he emphasizes: “We are prepared.” After the increasingly bizarre allegations of election fraud, election manipulation and election theft, with which Trump has been bombing the Georgia state government every day since November 3rd, election officers and election workers are particularly motivated to make the day as possible runs smoothly.

Susana Duran will be the first female voter at Pittman Park Recreation Center on January 5th. The young Latina wears a bright yellow hoodie under her down jacket, against the bitter cold that morning. She actually wanted to go to the early polls, she says, “but I didn’t make it, I had too much work”. With the election campaign.

Hopes that "the right ones" win: Susana Duran

Hopes that “the right people” win: Susana Duran

Source: Katja Ridderbusch

Duran is studying economics at Georgia State University and also helps mobilize Latin American voters in Georgia. She hopes “the right candidates will win,” she says, referring to Democrats Ossoff and Warnock. She is confident – “after all, a record number of voters have already voted and that is a good sign”.

In fact, a good three million Georgia voters took advantage of the early election opportunity – more than ever before in the southern state’s runoff election. As during the presidential election, election officers in Georgia expect the number of postal voters to be high in the runoff election because of the corona pandemic. According to previous statistics, the majority of early voters and postal voters vote for the Democrats. Republicans traditionally have a tendency to vote themselves on election day.

And so, during his campaign appearance on the eve of the runoff election in the small town of Dalton, northwest Georgia, Trump urged his supporters to “flood the state’s polling stations with a historic tidal wave of voters.”

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But instead of tidal waves, the queues in front of the polling stations on Tuesday were more like a gentle and steady splash. For example, in front of the Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, a small town north of Atlanta and traditionally a Republican stronghold. The Baptist Church is a massive brick building with a large parking lot and manicured prayers made of winter flowers and shrubs. The Christmas decorations are still hanging on the lanterns.

It is 11 a.m. when Nell and Steve Snipes come out of the polling station. You hardly had to wait, says Nell, an elegant woman with a bellboy, a black face mask and laughing eyes. She still holds her ID card and the “I’m a Georgia Voter” sticker, which election officials give each voter after they have cast their votes.

“Voting is a privilege”

Early voting or even postal voting were not options for her and her husband, she says firmly. “Because we don’t really trust the election process,” explains Steve, tall, white hair, navy blue windbreaker. She and her husband are “lifelong proud Republicans,” added Nell. “We don’t want to see a Georgia Democrat in the Senate.” Despite Trump’s fury over election theft and despite their own doubts about the integrity of the election process, they never thought about not voting, Nell said. “Voting is a privilege.” She has never missed an election in her life.

Megan, Ken and Katie Freedman, who have come as a family, are also waiting in the short line in front of the Marietta Baptist Church. For Katie, the November election was her first presidential election – and she thinks “it’s easy to vote on election day”. For her parents, it was more practical considerations to vote today, because in the early elections, “the lines were much longer,” says Megan.

The Freedmans want to vote for the democratic candidates and are therefore probably in the minority among those waiting. It’s always important to vote, says Ken, but in these elections it’s more important than ever. “This time, every single vote really counts.” The final polls before the elections saw the Democratic challengers just ahead of the Republican incumbents.

The Freedman family

The Freedman family

Source: Katja Ridderbusch

The average waiting time at polling stations was about a minute throughout election day, according to a statement from Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger. There were isolated technical glitches with voting computers and scanners, but overall the election went smoothly. Some polling stations had received prior threats and were protected by police officers or agents from the GBI State Security Agency, but it remained calm.

Brookhaven, a district a few kilometers north of Atlanta’s posh Buckhead district. It is 5 p.m., two hours before polling stations close. Around 15 voters are waiting in line in front of the University Baptist Church, an unadorned building on a busy street with shops, restaurants and apartments.

Ally and Dave stand on the sidewalk outside the polling station. Because the two are out and about with their four-month-old daughter in a stroller and their Golden Retriever on a leash, they go to vote one after the other. Dave lines up first. The two do not want to give their last name – “because of the miserable politics, there has been so much quarrel and stress in my family,” says Ally.

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The young woman with a blonde braid and a red baseball cap is actually a Republican, but she simply couldn’t vote for Trump in November. Today, in the runoff election, she wants to split her vote, want to vote for the Democrat Warnock and the Republican Perdue – “because of the balance.”

Does she think the allegations of electoral fraud raised by Trump and the two Republican Senators from Georgia are justified? She shrugs her shoulders. “I don’t know, really.” But she knows one thing for sure: that she will be relieved “when I don’t get any more text messages from one or the other campaigner from this evening onwards. When we stop talking about politics for a while. “

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