Mainstream media’s print and online coverage of the Georgia Senate runoff between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican nominee Herschel Walker repeatedly ignored GOP voter suppression efforts affecting the race, leaving out issues like a shorter runoff period and strict photo ID requirements.
Since no candidate received more than 50% of the vote in the November midterm election, Georgia law stipulates that the two candidates with the highest vote counts face off in today’s runoff race. While the race won’t necessarily decide control of the Senate, a win for Warnock would give Democrats greater flexibility, countering legislative opposition posed by more conservative members of the party and reprieving Democrats of relying on Vice President Kamala Harris to cast the tie-breaking 51st vote.
The highly watched Senate race has been met with commensurate voter turnout with unprecedented numbers of early ballots cast, breaking multiple state records. However, several state restrictions on voting have made it much more difficult for individuals, particularly Black voters, to cast their votes, making the unparalleled success of early voting in Georgia especially exceptional.
In 2021, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed a voter suppression law, described by voting rights advocate and former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams as “Jim Crow 2.0,” which added new administrative barriers to obtaining an absentee ballot. Since 2005, Georgia law required in-person voters to provide photo ID, but the 2021 law added further ID requirements for mail-in voters to verify their identities — a burden that disproportionately affects Black voters.
As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted in June 2021, Black voters “are much less likely than white voters to have ID numbers matched to their voter registrations.” Social justice organizations including the Brennan Center for Justice, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund have decried the new law for disproportionately suppressing Black voters.
Additionally, the law restricted the number of ballot drop boxes, prohibited volunteers from giving voters food or water while waiting in line, and cut down the length of the runoff calendar by half, condensing the nine-week process to just four. The shortened runoff period originally contained no opportunities for Saturday early voting until Warnock and other Democratic groups successfully sued to open early voting centers on November 26.
Some mainstream print and online coverage of the Senate runoff election frequently excluded important context about Georgia voter suppression efforts, whether it was not mentioning the shorter runoff period or brushing past the voter ID law. This lack of context was especially prevalent in reporting focused on the high early voter turnout. Articles that did mention these voter suppression tactics were often brief or undermined that reporting by quoting GOP politicians disputing that there were suppressive efforts.
- USA Today’s December 5 article on the tight runoff race between Walker and Warnock mentioned no element of voter suppression, instead choosing to focus on the fact that Georgia voters were “shattering the one-day record for early voting.” The article praised voters for “exercising their civic duty” without context that there have been additional hurdles for voters to cross in this election, such as the new voter ID requirement.
- While Reuters’ December 2 piece on the runoff did mention the shorter period for voting in this election, it also noted that this cycle has seen “record turnout” and quoted without fact-checking Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s statement that “claims of voter suppression in Georgia are conspiracy theories no more valid than Bigfoot.”
- A December 3 NBC News article focusing on voter turnout in the Georgia runoff race failed to contextualize the shorter run-off voting window established by Kemp’s voter suppression law, instead highlighting the fact that voters had broken “two single-day records in about a week.”
- Similarly, a December 2 piece on The Hill regarding the “record” early voting seen in the runoff race did not mention the shortened window for voting or the GOP voter suppression law.
- Politico’s December 2 article on the runoff failed to include much context on the state’s voter suppression law. Although the piece mentioned a “condensed runoff period” inspiring people to get to the polls, it did not clarify why a shorter window exists or who mandated it, and the article also quoted Raffensperger comparing voter suppression claims to Bigfoot sightings without any pushback.
- An ABC News December 5 article whitewashed the effects of the GOP voter suppression law, saying that the shortened voting period was “condensed by lawmakers as part of a larger overhaul of state elections” and quoted Raffensperger that “this level of voter participation is excellent.” Although the piece also quoted Abrams in saying that “turnout does not dispel voter suppression. Suppression is about barriers to access,” it failed to include a substantial explanation of the law or its impacts.
While multiple mainstream media outlets failed to properly contextualize the record-breaking early vote turnout, dancing around the connection between the 2021 Georgia voting law and difficulties faced by voters, The New York Times was one of the only newsrooms to accurately outline the obstacles in the Senate runoff. The Times explicitly noted that compounding restrictions led to “a funnel effect in Georgia,” effectively bottlenecking the election process: “Voters have a far smaller window to cast ballots, which has led to hourslong lines around metro Atlanta, a Democratic stronghold, even though fewer people are voting ahead of Tuesday’s runoff race than in the early 2021 elections.”