Whilst the 2020 US presidential election result has become clearer, there is one state that has shocked many analysts. Georgia, a traditionally red state is going to be flipped by the Democrats (subject to a recount) for the first time since 1992.
However, I will not focus on the Democrat’s success in leading Georgia, instead this article will tell the story of the grassroots work on voter protection and registration, led by former gubernatorial nominee, Stacey Abrams. From the Guardian, New York Times and even The Sun, Stacey Abrams has been hailed as the Democrat’s hero in Georgia. But more importantly, Abrams is a hero for reinvigorating democracy and protecting individual democratic rights.
Firstly, an introduction to politician and author, Stacey Abrams. Abrams, aged 46, served eleven years in the Georgia House of Representatives and wrote ‘Our Time is Now; and ‘Lead From the Outside’ which are roughly about making lasting change and improving democracy. Before getting involved in politics and democratic rights, Abrams studied at Yale and was a lawyer in taxation.
Abrams ran as the Democrat candidate for Governor of Georgia in 2018, the first black woman to run for governor in the USA. It was a tight election, but more importantly the Trump-backed incumbent, Brian Kemp was accused of suppressing the power of ethnic minorities to vote.
In 2016, Georgia ranked 49th out of 50 for waiting times at polling stations to vote according to MIT. This was still a huge issue in the Summer elections in 2020. More and more polling stations were being closed, disproportionately affecting ethnic minorities.
In 2017, 340,134 people had been purged off the voter register wrongly. To put this into context, out of everyone removed rightly or wrongly in 2017 (around 1.6 million from 2010 to 2018) 70% were Black, whilst the Black population of Georgia is only 32% out of around 670,000. Racial disparities in voting rights are still very much prevalent.
Georgia, like the rest of the USA has always had problems with voter suppression. In 2013, it got worse with the removal of the Voting Rights Act, diminishing the protection for ethnic minority voters, for example with voter ID laws. Abrams and many other non-partisan grassroots organisations decided action must be taken. Besides, a citizen being unable to vote should not a partisan issue.
Long before 2018, Abrams founded the New Georgia Project, which helps to register voters and engage them. In addition, there had been lawsuit after lawsuit against the long-running Governor Kemp, such as from the NAACP and Common Cause.
Efforts have kept growing to stop voter suppression, like the rejection of 1,000’s of absentee ballots and to engage ethnic minorities, especially younger people to exercise their right to vote, no matter who they vote for.
Since 2018, Stacey Abrams has built on her political and organisational networks to help people exercise their right to vote because ultimately, sustaining and building upon democratic rights is her main fight.
Abrams launched Fair Fight after the 2018 Georgia governor race, which focuses on voter registration, ballot access and voter counting. This means overcoming the challenges and negative perspectives on absentee (very similar to mail-in), mail-in and provisional (fail-safe mechanism in case of voting issues at booth) ballots (more information here).
Fair Fight, New Georgia Project and other non-partisan groups helped to register around 800,000 new voters. Their work put pressure on the state of Georgia to reinstate 22,000 purged voters. Turnout in Georgia increased from 59% in 2016 to around 68% in 2020. Unregistered but eligible voters went from 22% to an incredible 2% from 2016 to 2020.
They engaged voters in unique ways, trying to make the democratic process entertaining and of great importance at the same time. For example, during a livestream in September on Twitch by New Georgia Project helped register 9,000 voters. This sort of innovation is what helped people with the voting process and to engage them with politics, no matter who they voted for.
Aside from voting, Abrams also launched Fair Count, an organisation that helped get people counted in the US Census, especially black men as 67,000 of them were at risk of not being counted. The Census is important because it is about representation and funding, for example if 1,000s of Black men are not counted, there would be a cut of around $154 million for Medicaid, public works, education, school lunches and student loans. 22% live in hard to count areas in Georgia, meaning the task was immense.
As Abrams has said, the work is not done yet, there are two Senate run-offs in Georgia on 5 January and Georgians have till the 7 December to register to vote. But the work done by Abrams and grassroot organisations has already reinvigorated the democratic process in Georgia. We can admire the work of people who use their energies to help people get engaged in their community. Georgia’s very own John Lewis would be proud.