DECATUR — On Monday, the first day of early voting in Georgia, Jill Biden, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, visited Georgia and said the state could decide "our future for generations to come."
Lines formed at polling locations across Atlanta long before polls opened, and voters continued to add to the steady stream of ballots cast throughout the day on Monday.
Jill Biden visited Decatur, flanked by an army of high-profile Georgia Democrats. During her speech, she stressed the high stakes of this election year.
"There are no do-overs in this election,” she told the crowd. “... One vote could make the difference between winning and losing a precinct. One precinct could win this state. And one state — this state — could decide our future for generations to come.”
Biden took a personal approach as she described her husband. She recalled the loss of their son, Beau, to brain cancer, and how Joe Biden continued his career despite the tragedy.
"Through it all, Joe learned how to heal a broken family,” she said. "It's the same way you heal a nation — with love and understanding, with small acts of kindness, with bravery, with unwavering hope. Joe will be a president for all America.”
While state officials’ handling of state and school reopenings have been under scrutiny during the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Jill Biden said Joe Biden is committed to reopening schools and daycares safely, protecting preexisting conditions and lowering prescription drug prices.
She called on voters to push against the narrative that America is irreversibly divided and to show their “power” by going to the polls.
"I want everyone to drop off your ballot today ... If you don't have one, make a plan to vote early, and then get involved,” she said. "I know you're busy. I know you're stretched so thin, but this election is too important not to do every single thing we can. This is it."
Stacey Abrams, a 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate and founder of the voter rights group Fair Fight Action, joined in urging voters to make a plan, get their vote in early and treat Election Day as “last call."
Abrams noted that since 2016, voter engagement and the Democratic presence in the state have grown exponentially, making Georgia a new battleground for the 2020 presidential election. Abrams lost to now-Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, in 2018 by about 55,000 votes.
“Already Georgia Democrats are showing out across this state,” she said, referring to the large turnout on the first day of early voting. "We have lines across the state, and we want to make sure those are lines of enthusiasm. Lines that predict the future of the state of Georgia.”
By Monday, nearly 1.6 million voters in Georgia had already requested an absentee ballot through the secretary of state's online application portal. That's compared to 171,285 at the same time in 2016. Nearly 440,000 ballots have already been accepted, a 671% increase from the same time in 2016.
Election officials predict “historic” turnout for the November general election.
T.J. Copeland, senior adviser to the Biden campaign, told CNHI the Biden-Kamala Harris ticket has an eye on investing in Georgia and that the increase in voter participation since 2016 will push the ticket ahead in the election.
“(The campaign) truly believes that Georgia is the place to be and spend time and money and efforts,” he said. “We're seeing investments that we've not seen in years and years from a presidential race. So, we're very excited about what's going on here in Georgia."
But while Democrats are hitting the road just a few weeks out from Election Day, they’ve taken a starkly different approach to campaign events than their Republican counterparts and have put safety during the pandemic ahead of packed events. At the small, outdoor rally on Monday, attendees and staff all wore masks. The crowd was separated by socially-distanced hula hoops that they were required to stay within.
Copeland said the party has taken the stance of safety first since the beginning and intends to stick to it.
“Safety is number one, and we will campaign around safety,” he told CNHI.
Riley Bunch covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites.