Millions of Georgians have voted.  It hasn't been easy for everyone

IIn Georgia, millions of voters have already cast their ballots in an election that is shaping up to be a turning point in American politics.

In 2020, the key swing state helped determine the outcome of the presidential election and control of the Senate. This year, more crucial races are coming: Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock neck-to-neck with the Republican challenger Herschel Walkerwhile Republican Gov. Brian Kemp again faces Democrat Stacey Abrams, who lost to Kemp in 2018 by less than 60,000 votes. The results in Georgia could not only determine who controls the state, but also who controls Congress. The stakes are high and voters know it.

So far, voter turnout for the 2022 election is at least 20% higher than it was at this point in 2018. Above two million people voted early in person, while over 200,000 voted in absentia. The high voter turnout comes after Georgia passed controversial bill SB 202 made numerous changes to Georgia’s election law last year, including restriction the number and availability of absentee ballot boxes, imposing new ID requirements when requesting those ballots, and imposing an additional weekend day for early voting. Republicans pointed to the record turnout as evidence that SB 202 was not about voter suppression, while Democrats argued that voters were instead motivated by the high stakes to overcome new barriers.

Mike Hassinger, public information officer for the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, told TIME in a statement that SB 202 is “designed to maximize convenience for individual voters while enhancing overall election security and public confidence in the election process.”

“Georgians now have more ways and more days to vote than ever before and multiple options to vote in the method that best suits the individual voter,” he said.

Although more than 2.5 million Georgians have already voted and more are sure to vote on November 8, it hasn’t been easy for everyone. TIME spoke with seven voters who found it difficult, if not impossible, to vote in this election. Some say their difficulties stem from Georgia law. Others face more personal challenges facing people across America, a country where socioeconomic status, location, disability status and access to transportation can often determine who feels free. While some on this list have been able to overcome these barriers to vote this year, others will not.

Robin Hassan poses for a portrait at her home in Atlanta on November 6.  (Jillian Laub for TIME)

Robin Hassan poses for a portrait at her home in Atlanta on November 6.

Jillian Laub for TIME

Robin Hassan, 46, Atlanta, Georgia
Banned from voting on probation

Growing up, Robin Hassan’s parents stressed to her the importance of voting and choosing your representatives, she says. She always made an effort to vote until she was jailed in 2010 for computer theft and wire fraud. She was released on parole in 2020 and has seven years left on her sentence. Until that time is up, Georgia law prevents her from voting.

“When you go to jail, when you go home, they tell you your time is up,” Hassan says. “But that’s not necessarily the case. Not being able to vote makes you feel like a second class citizen, like I can’t voice my concerns about how I would like my life to be here in the state of Georgia.

Hassan is now the executive director of the advocacy group Women on the Rise, a group of ex-prisoners advocating for criminal justice reform. They are urging Georgia lawmakers to join the other 23 states that are expanding voting rights of persons on parole or probation. “As a homeowner, I pay my taxes,” she says. “I don’t see how I can be treated as a citizen when it’s beneficial.” [the state]but my voice must be silenced when it comes to anything that can benefit me.’

Francesca Rue poses for a portrait in her college dorm in Atlanta on Nov. 5.  (Jillian Laub for TIME)

Francesca Rue poses for a portrait in her college dorm in Atlanta on Nov. 5.

Jillian Laub for TIME

Francesca Rue, 18, Atlanta, Georgia
Laccredited transport

Francesca Rue was excited to vote for the first time this year. But as she began planning her way to early voting, she was surprised by how unavailable he was. Ruhe, who attends Georgia State University in Atlanta, does not have a car and relies on public transportation to get around the city. She says that when she searched for nearby early voting locations, each one was a long walk from the nearest public transit stop, meaning her route to vote could take more than 3 hours each way and return. She ended up traveling with someone who could give her a ride to go vote early.

Rue works for a state representative and describes herself as someone who finds it “absolutely necessary to go vote.” Still, “I still found it hard to motivate myself because of all these barriers,” she says. “Going to vote should be like going to a fast food restaurant. It takes so much effort to put into it.”

Derrean Tucker poses for a portrait outside her home in LaGrange, Ga.  on November 5.  (Gillian Laub for TIME)

Derean Tucker poses for a portrait outside his home in LaGrange, Georgia on November 5.

Jillian Laub for TIME

Derrean Tucker, 23, LaGrange, Georgia
Prohibition on Parole Voting

When he was 18, Derean Tucker was sentenced to 12 years in prison for attempted armed robbery. Shortly after being imprisoned, Tucker was beaten by other men in the prison to the point of permanent blindness. He was paroled in 2020, and Tucker now works to advocate for the rights of his fellow Georgians with disabilities.

Tucker was arrested when he was 17. He has never been able to vote, and under Georgia law, he won’t be able to until his parole and probation expires — which will be in 2046.

Tucker says he realizes not being able to vote is part of his punishment. “I just wish voting for people with disabilities was accessible,” he says. “And I hope that when I get off parole, I’ll be able to vote freely and easily without any hindrance.”

Marrow Woods poses for a portrait in Atlanta on Nov. 6.  (Jillian Laub for TIME)

Marrow Woods poses for a portrait in Atlanta on Nov. 6.

Jillian Laub for TIME

Marrow Woods, 19, Atlanta, Georgia
Afraid of long lines due to disability

Marrow Woods is worried about voting in person. Woods suffers from hidradenitis suppurativa, a chronic condition that they say makes it difficult to stand for long periods of time or carry things and causes them to dehydrate easily. They already feared the possibility of long lines to vote and were alarmed to hear that SB 202 would prohibit volunteers from handing out food or water to voters while they wait in line.

Supporters of the law’s ban on offering “gifts” — including food or drink — within 150 feet of a polling place say the goal is to prevent political organizations or operatives from swaying voters just before they vote. But Marrow says the law makes them feel unsupported as people with disabilities and will force them to carry a large water bottle on Election Day that will be difficult for them to carry.

“I’m really excited to be able to vote this year,” says Woods. “And make sure that people like me, whether it’s someone who’s black, transgender, queer or disabled, can have a voice and feel represented.”

Jennifer Jones poses for a portrait at her home in Fairburn, Georgia on November 5.  (Jillian Laub for TIME)

Jennifer Jones poses for a portrait at her home in Fairburn, Georgia on November 5.

Jillian Laub for TIME

Jennifer Jones, 31, Fairburn, Georgia
Contested voter registration

Since moving to Georgia in 2017, Jennifer Jones says she’s never had a problem voting. But that changed on Oct. 18 when she walked into her early voting location and learned her voter registration had been challenged.

SB 202 allows individual Georgians to challenge the eligibility of an unlimited number of voters. According to atlanta-Statutes of the journal, at least 65,000 voter registrations have been challenged statewide this year, only 3,200 of which have been upheld. Proponents of the challenges say they are intended to prevent potential voter fraud, while opponents counter that such challenges are unnecessary and potentially discriminatory.

Jones does not know who challenged her right to vote. Election officials told her she would instead have to vote with a provisional ballot — a ballot that is not counted until a voter’s eligibility is verified until three business days after Election Day. Jones says she declined and contacted a voting rights nonprofit, which then contacted her local elections department and verified her identity. She returned the following week and successfully voted early. (Fulton County Elections did not respond to TIME’s request for comment.)

Jones says the experience has taught her that people shouldn’t give up when they face barriers to voting. “I am part of democracy,” she says. “Black people fought to be a part of democracy. And I can’t have someone tell me I can’t vote.

Lupita Cadena poses for a portrait near her home in Chatsworth, Georgia on November 6.  (Jillian Laub for TIME)

Lupita Cadena poses for a portrait near her home in Chatsworth, Georgia on November 6.

Jillian Laub for TIME

Lupita Cadena, 31, Chatsworth, Georgia
Pconfirmed work schedule

Lupita Cadena works the night shift at her local Target six days a week. The shift usually runs from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. and when she gets off, she has to drive her three children, ages 9, 7, and 3. Kadena says it is extremely difficult for her to allocate a minimum of 20 minutes each way to drive to her nearest polling place. For that reason, Cadena says, she hasn’t voted in years.

But this election will be different. Cadena began working a second job campaigning for the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO), a non-partisan, non-profit organization that aims to support the civic engagement of Georgia’s Latino community. Through her work, Cadena says she’s met people “who go out and vote even when it’s probably almost impossible for them to do it, but they do it anyway.” On Election Day, she plans to be one of them.

Keith Bowens poses for a portrait at his home in Lithonia, Georgia, on Nov. 6.  (Jillian Laub for TIME)

Keith Bowens poses for a portrait at his home in Lithonia, Georgia, on Nov. 6.

Jillian Laub for TIME

Keith Bowens, 56, Lithonia, Georgia
ID required

Keith Bowens didn’t realize he needed an ID to vote until he got a postcard for it in the mail from the nonprofit VoteRiders. Bowens had an ID the last time he voted for former President Barack Obama, but then he was jailed for two years on a felony and on probation for two more, and during that time his ID was lost, he says.

He contacted VoteRiders, who stepped in to help. Because Bowens was unemployed at the time, the nonprofit paid for his ID card fee and for his transportation to and from the DMV. After watching the contentious 2020 election, Bowens says he feels motivated to make sure his voice is heard.

“I want to have a chance to vote and have my vote count,” he says. “Now I have what it takes.” He plans to vote on Election Day.

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Write to Madeline Carlisle c [email protected].

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