Turnout for early voting in Hall County has been more than double what it was in the 2014 midterms, and young voters in Northeast Georgia are attributing that to increased political awareness, regardless of political party.
They also said voters seem more open to candidates with ideas that may differ from their own or from what has been the established position of their party in previous elections.
“There are always going to be people who are going to vote based on party lines, but I think most of the people I’ve interacted with at least are considering voting for candidates from parties they haven’t voted for in years or ever,” said Kyle Leineweber, president of Brenau University College Democrats.
Arturo Adame, president of Hall County Young Democrats, said he sees Republicans shifting further to the right, and Democrats are departing from tradition, too.
“Moderation isn’t going to win,” Adame said. “It’s going to be a real change that is going to affect things more drastically.”
Hall County has traditionally been a Republican stronghold — 76 percent of voters chose Donald Trump in 2016, and 78 percent voted to re-elect Gov. Nathan Deal in 2014 — but Adame said he sees that changing, even if the shift is gradual.
“It’s going to be a generational thing, where each person will have to build on top of the next person, but the foundation is there and it’s a strong one,” Adame said.
Adame said many people involved in Young Democrats have only recently become politically involved, but the 2016 election “woke a lot of people up.”
Now, he said Democrats in Hall County have several candidates to support on the state and local level, and people are turning out to the polls and showing up to volunteer, particularly for the campaign of Josh McCall, who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives.
James King, chairman of the Young Republicans of Northeast Georgia, said the region’s consistent favoring of conservative candidates may negatively affect conservative activism, but he still sees people becoming invested in the election.
“I feel like because Northeast Georgia is such a conservative stronghold. ... I think that that has led to some complacency,” King said. “But I think that people will do a good job of getting to the polls and voting.”
It seems that the two sides are standing at the opposite sides of the room screaming at one another, rather than sitting at the table.James King, chairman of the Young Republicans of Northeast Georgia
King said it seems impossible to avoid hearing about politics, even if that information is biased or inaccurate.
“We get on Facebook and everyone is sharing their opinions with one another. … Wherever we go, we’re bombarded with what’s happening politically,” King said. “We’re bombarded not just with facts, but with people’s opinions about things. It seems to be emotionally driven. It seems that that environment makes more people want to get out and express their opinions and vote.”
King, a student at Truett McConnell University, said one of the goals of Young Republicans of Northeast Georgia is to get people to vote, even if they aren’t Republicans. But political conversations are becoming more polarized, he said.
“It seems that the two sides are standing at the opposite sides of the room screaming at one another, rather than sitting at the table,” King said.
Brooke Thigpen, chair of Brenau College Republicans, said Brenau students have collaborated to keep political conversations on campus civil. Brenau’s College Republicans worked with College Democrats and the county’s elections office to host an event to educate students about voting.
“On Brenau’s campus specifically, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the amount of students who are interested and engaged in the political process on all levels of government,” Thigpen said in an email. “... Ensuring young voters are informed of the political process is crucial to making sure young people have a voice.”
Lieneweber said the campus environment has stayed collegial, even as political tensions mount as the election approaches.
“We’re able to be friends at the end of the day as well, no matter if we disagree on a policy issue or voted for someone different,” he said.
The election is Nov. 6, and voters in Hall can cast their ballots early until Nov. 2.