On Friday morning, ten people sat at tables in a fluorescent-lit room in a strip mall in Decatur, Georgia, east of Atlanta, making phone calls. On the walls, posters featuring Barack Obama and slogans like “Get Out the Vote!” hung next to sheets of paper on which people had scrawled personal reasons for voting for Stacey Abrams for governor of Georgia, such as “Affordable quality healthcare!” and “Kemp is literally a white supremacist.”
Brian Kemp, the Republican in this year’s governor’s race, declared victory on Wednesday afternoon. Out of nearly four million votes cast, he has a lead of roughly sixty thousand, putting him just above the fifty-per-cent threshold required to avoid a runoff. Until Thursday morning, he was Georgia’s secretary of state, and was thus responsible for overseeing the election. He resigned shortly before a scheduled hearing in a lawsuit seeking his recusal. (The outgoing governor, Nathan Deal, a Republican, appointed Robyn Crittenden, a longtime ally, to take Kemp’s place. A lawyer for the nonprofit Protect Democracy, which represented five Georgia plaintiffs in the suit, called Kemp’s resignation a “huge victory.”) Other lawsuits have also been filed, one of them concerned with the paucity of voting machines at certain polling locations, and another focussed on a Georgia county where the delivery of absentee ballots was delayed by Hurricane Michael. Yet another lawsuit addressed polling locations where voters were pushed to use provisional ballots.
Provisional ballots were also the focus at the strip mall in Decatur. As Kemp prepared for his transition—and, perhaps, privately, the legal battles seeking to delay or even deny it—the Abrams campaign set up seven offices around the state where staffers and volunteers were “chasing provisional ballots,” which are typically offered to voters who are unable to sufficiently prove their identities at the time of voting. (President Trump, perhaps unaware that not all votes are counted at the same time, tweeted, on Friday morning, “You mean they are just now finding votes in Florida and Georgia—but the Election was on Tuesday? Let’s blame the Russians and demand an immediate apology from President Putin!”) According to an unofficial list compiled by the secretary of state’s office, 21,190 provisional ballots remain at play, along with a few thousand absentee ballots. If those are all the votes that remain, Abrams would need to receive nearly every last one of them to force a recount or a runoff. (The Kemp campaign has contended that even that would not be enough, an argument that Kemp’s press secretary, Cody Hall, reiterated to me on Friday: “Math hasn’t changed there.”) The deadline for certifying provisional ballots cast in the election was 5 P.M. on Friday—though, in some counties, it would be extended by a few hours. As the deadline approached, Abrams’s staff and supporters were trying to make sure that they didn’t miss any.
Carol O’Regan, a physical therapist in her forties, sat at one table in Decatur, by herself, with coffee and a notebook. She wore a headset as she dialled numbers provided to her by the Abrams campaign, leaving message after message. “Hi, this is Carol calling from the Stacey Abrams campaign,” she said. “We understand that you had to cast a provisional ballot during the election. We just want to try to help you get that cleared up today, by 5 P.M. If you could give our voter hotline a call.” She listed the number. “Thanks so much and have a great day!”
During a quick break, O’Regan said, “This is the first time I‘ve phone-banked. I’ll use the script if anyone picks up. For the messages, I just make my own thing up.”
An hour into her effort, a man named Lloyd, in Gwinnett County, answered his phone. O’Regan straightened to attention. “We want to make sure your vote is counted,” she told him. “We just need a little more information.” She went on talking to Lloyd, while looking at voter information on her phone. It appeared, at first, that Lloyd wasn’t registered to vote, based on the notation that a poll worker had included on his provisional ballot. “We’d love to help you figure this out,” she said. A few minutes later, O’Regan discovered on the secretary of state’s Web site that Lloyd was, in fact, registered. “I think we need you to go to the office with your I.D.,” O’Regan told him. “Are you able to do that today?” She gave him the address in Gwinnett. “I believe you have an extended deadline today,” she said. “But I would go by five, just in case. We’ll give you a ride there if you need it. Let me know. We want your vote counted.” She paused. “You’re going now? O.K., great. Thanks, Lloyd. We’ll see ya.”
After O’Regan got off the phone, an Abrams campaign staffer went over and gave her a high five. Another volunteer clapped from across the room. Nan Orrock, a state senator working in support of Abrams, reminisced about earlier efforts in pursuit of suffrage and civil rights. “I marched on Washington in 1963,” she said. “I’ve been chased by the Klan, had crosses burned in my yard, freedom houses burned up. This fight for the vote, it’s not a plaything. It’s dead serious.”
O’Regan, nodding, recapped the call. “He told me, ‘I don’t typically answer calls that I don’t recognize,’ ” she said. “But he decided to answer this one, which was so funny. And then he said, ‘I voted for Stacey.’ I was, like, ‘That’s not really why we’re calling, but it is why we’re calling.’ He said he had an absentee ballot, which is why they wouldn’t let him vote or something. But I’m not really sure that’s why. It’s something to do with his registration. But he’s registered. It’s on the Web site. So I told him to go in person—I think that’s what the script was telling me.” She added, “He’s getting in the car and going. He said, ‘If people out there waited eighteen hours to vote, I can do it.’ ”
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