As voters get ready for the 2022 Senate runoff election, one thing is clear— the people of Georgia won on election night. I’m not talking about the outcome of any race. I’m talking about the more than 3.9 million voters who overcame orchestrated efforts to prevent them from making their voices heard, casting their votes and keeping democracy alive in our state.
This election was not about any one politician or series of personalities. The stakes were much higher. Georgia lawmakers spent the last two years engineering and passing SB 202 and SB 441, legislation that purged voter rolls, made it illegal to give voters water and severely restricted mail-in voting (which disproportionately impacts the elderly, disabled, and homebound), all with the intent to disenfranchise voters. Their efforts upended our traditional voting practices and created new barriers to intimidate voters. Not only did the new laws restrict the ways, times, and places people could vote, they empowered the Georgia Bureau of Investigations to launch inquiries into alleged voter misconduct based on a hunch or an ‘I told you so,’ leaving many vulnerable voters subject to potential harassment and disenfranchisement.
Voter suppression is nothing new, and it has always targeted women, people of color, new Americans, and those lacking financial means or with criminal records. Today’s lawmakers are simply taking a page out of Jim Crow-era playbooks on maintaining power. Our forefathers and foremothers faced poll taxes, literacy tests, and violence to cast their ballots. Today, we’re facing a different set of voter suppression tactics. Still, we’re continuing in their footsteps to make the promises of democracy a reality and ensure our communities have access to the ballot box.
As a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to fighting for an equitable and inclusive democracy, it’s our job to help our state’s most marginalized communities — those targeted by suppression efforts — stand up to this kind of ballot-box bullying. Over the past nine months, ProGeorgia has had the honor of supporting our partners—49 community organizations working with Georgia voters of every race, religion and creed—to do the hard work of democracy.
Armed with two years of pandemic-era organizing under our belts and years of on-the-ground experience in our varied communities, ProGeorgia met people where they were. Through 31,000 face-to-face conversations, 10 million texts and 133,000 phone conversations, we registered tens of thousands. We provided more than 3 million Georgians with information and resources to help overcome the myriad obstacles intended to keep them from voting. Through in-person and virtual trainings, we connected voters with opportunities to get engaged this election season because our democracy requires participation to thrive.
Whether through voter education campaigns that confront mis- and disinformation, through traditional and social media and advertising efforts that point voters toward critical deadlines for voter registration and need-to-know information about election dates and what’s happening at their polling locations, or through grassroots education and mobilization efforts to get out the vote, our number-one focus has been making sure voters were ready to face down all obstacles placed between them and the ballot box.
With Election Day behind us, we clearly see the fruits of our labor materialize in the form of increased voter engagement. Low and medium-propensity voters, who tend to be overlooked by campaigns (especially during midterms or for down-ballot races), Black voters and other voters of color showed up and showed out at the polls. Through the first three weeks of early voting, voters of color voted at higher rates than their white neighbors across almost every age group, and collectively, Georgia voters broke the record for early voting, casting more than 2.5 million ballots. As a state, we overcame reduced voting locations, new rules, and various challenges. Every one of the four million votes is a testament to our collective commitment to democracy.
This is what it looks like to refuse to let Georgia’s history of voter suppression repeat itself. It looks like voters who kept their faith in the process and poll workers and election administrators who are braving threats to tally each ballot. Regardless of which candidates win in the end, if every vote is counted, democracy will have won.
Tamieka Atkins is the executive director of ProGeorgia, a state-based nonpartisan voter engagement advocacy organization. ProGeorgia serves as a civic engagement table for more than 40 diverse nonprofits to work strategically with new tools and technology to organize around issues and policy change in Georgia.
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