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Georgians settle many races on the primary ballot, including surprise contest over abortion rights


Georgians settle many races on the primary ballot, including surprise contest over abortion rights

May 22, 2024 | 1:00 am ET
By Georgia Recorder staff
Georgians settle many races on the primary ballot, including surprise contest over abortion rights
A voter walks into Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Cobb County Tuesday on the last day to vote in the primary election. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

A statewide Supreme Court race that centered on abortion rights delivered a jolt to an otherwise largely low-key primary election.

Tuesday’s primary lacked the high-profile statewide contests that usually drum up interest, like a race for governor. For the most part, this year’s primary was a chance for voters to choose nominees for state legislative and congressional primaries, local contests and a host of nonpartisan judicial races across the state.

But a late push by a state Supreme Court candidate to make the one contested high court seat a referendum on abortion rights got some voters’ attention.

John Barrow, a former Democratic congressional candidate, raised eyebrows with his pronouncements that he believes the Georgia Constitution protects abortion rights. Barrow challenged Justice Andrew Pinson, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in 2022.

A legal challenge to the state’s 2019 abortion law has already landed before the state Supreme Court and will likely return at some point. But Barrow has defended his comments as reflecting his general view on the issue and not a declaration of how he would vote when it comes to any particular case.

Barrow came up short Tuesday, but his campaign offered one of the few tests for how voters in Georgia feel about the controversial 2019 law, which bans most abortions after about six weeks and before many women know they are pregnant.

It’s unclear how widely known it was that Barrow was campaigning on abortion rights, but several voters interviewed Tuesday were keenly aware.

 “I hate to use this phrase, but a group of old white men shouldn’t be making decisions about my reproductive health,” said Nancy Dombrowsky of Villa Rica, who said she voted for Barrow.

Barrow’s stance on abortion access also won over Jeff Evans from Coweta County.

“I think what’s happened has gone way beyond where it should have ever gone. And I think women ought to have that right,” Evans said. “Every time there’s been an election in any state in the country where that was on the table, they lost, so I hope that happens here.”

That didn’t prove to be the case in Georgia, although the race was far tighter than expected.

Barrow’s statements were also off-putting to other voters.

“Judges don’t write the law. They should interpret the law,” said William DeLoach, also of Coweta County. “That’s the reason I voted the way I did, because Barrow already said exactly how he’s going to rule in certain situations, and that’s not the way it should be done.” 

Others said they were not familiar with the candidates or the issues in the state Supreme Court race.

Top state election official says he expects strong turnout in November

By the time polls closed on Tuesday night, voter turnout had exceeded the number of ballots cast in the presidential preference primary in March.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said that Tuesday’s election went smoothly across the state, with the exception of a few minor hiccups. In all, 1.3 million voters, or 20% of registered voters, cast ballots for state and congressional primaries and elections for local races.

Georgians settle many races on the primary ballot, including surprise contest over abortion rights
Sign wavers stood outside a west Atlanta polling place Tuesday trying to convince passing motorists to stop and vote. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

About 12% of Georgia voters cast ballots in the March 12 presidential primary that helped cement Trump and Biden’s nomination as Republican and Democratic presidential candidates..

Raffensperger said his election investigation team visited nearly 400 precincts across 102 counties Tuesday and found that  “everything was operating in good form.”

State election officials have predicted that six million Georgia residents will vote in the Nov. 5 general election, when the expected Biden-Trump rematch will be on the ballot 

“We think this is pretty good turnout for a primary which means coming this fall we really expect a strong turnout,” Raffensperger said Tuesday night after the polls closed.

The Secretary of State’s MyVoterPage crashed Tuesday afternoon for about 45 minutes after the system was unable to handle the volume of people trying to find out their polling place, registration status and other election information.

Also, on Tuesday morning a Troup County polling place was able to use battery power to keep electronic voting machines running after a tractor trailer knocked over a utility pole. 

Fair Fight, the voting rights group started by Stacey Abrams, raised concerns about “extreme delays” in vote-by-mail delivery and the technical glitches with the My Voter Page. The group criticized the Secretary of State’s office for not providing options and support for voters who were attempting to find their way through “a vastly different voting landscape than four years ago.” 

Cobb County resident Elinor Spears described the time it took her to submit her Democratic Party ballot as being as fast as “greased lightning.” 

Georgians settle many races on the primary ballot, including surprise contest over abortion rights
Issa Jackson, who is known professionally as DJ Kutt Throat, participated in the nonpartisan DJs at the Poll initiative. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

She does not anticipate the same speed in November when significantly more voters are expected to turn out.

“I’ll be patient if I have to wait a little longer (Nov. 5). There’s too much at stake to worry about spending a few more minutes standing in line,” the 72-year-old retired public school teacher said.

Issa Jackson, who is known professionally as DJ Kutt Throat, was set up at C. T. Martin Natatorium and Recreation Center in west Atlanta as part of the nonpartisan DJs at the Polls initiative.

Jackson blasted upbeat music and occasionally spoke into a microphone in hopes of prodding more people to come vote. Others waved signs of individual candidates at the passing vehicles.

“Can’t complain about what’s going on in your community if you’re not voting,” Jackson said into the mic.  

Georgia Recorder reporters Ross Williams, Stanley Dunlap and Jill Nolin contributed to this report.