Early voting begins on Monday in the runoff for both U.S. Senate seats in Georgia, and the result will determine whether Republicans or Democrats control the upper house of Congress. African-American voters who played a key role in President-elect Joe Biden’s outraged victory in the typically Republican state will need to return if Democrats hope to win both races and take control of the Senate.
In the November election, Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since former President Bill Clinton won the state in 1992.
But since no candidate in Georgia’s two U.S. Senate races won more than half the votes, state law requires rounding to determine who will join the 50 Republican and 48 Democratic senators already elected to serve in the 117th U.S. Congress. If Democrats win both Georgia races to create an even division of the Senate by 100 seats, it would be Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris who decides the decisive vote.
Republican incumbent David Perdue will avert a challenge from Democrat Jon Ossoff, a former investigative journalist and small business owner who lost a 2017 attempt to abolish a Republican congresswoman. Perdue, who was elected in 2014, refused to take part in a debate on December 7 against his rival and left Ossoff to ask questions while standing next to an empty podium.
Republican Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed by the governor to her Senate in early 2020, has repeatedly used GOP legislation to accuse her Democratic challenger, Pastor Raphael Warnock, of being a “radical socialist.” Warnock, the senior pastor of Atlanta’s large Ebenezer Baptist church, has cracked down on Loeffler for dumping millions of dollars in shares after attending a closed-door briefing on the Covid-19 epidemic in January.
Biden, who defeated President Donald Trump by 12,670 votes in Georgia, awaited the state by gaining the support of “rich, college-educated and older voters” in the Atlanta suburbs, according to an analysis by the New York Times. The president-elect also performed as well or better than the 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in some areas of the Atlanta subway station with African-American majorities.
Voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, a former state representative in Georgia who ran for governor in 2018, explained in an interview with National Public Radio how the two organizations she founded – New Georgia Project and Fair Fight – helped increase the number of registered voters in the state. Abrams said rights groups had registered 800,000 new voters, 49 percent of whom voted.
“And we’ve been working hard to get them to show up,” Abrams said.
During the 2018 gubernatorial contest that Abrams lost to Brian Kemp, groups including the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) sued Kemp to challenge more than 50,000 voter registration forms. Nearly 70 percent of the forms came from black applicants, according to an Associated Press analysis.
About 1 million African Americans had already voted in Georgia by the end of the Friday before election day, an increase from 712,000 at the same time in 2016, according to the democratic analysis company TargetSmart.
Speaking shortly after the media called the state Biden on November 13, the head of Georgia’s Democrats was determined.
“This proves what we have been saying all along … that we have the voters here to turn the state blue,” said Nikema Williams, president of Georgia’s Democratic Party, in comments to the LA Times. “It’s about making sure we have the resources and candidates who are willing to work to get the vote out.”
Jowhartalked to Dr. Andra Gillespie, Professor of Political Science at Emory University in Atlanta, on how Georgia’s black voters can affect the outcome of the upcoming Senate elections. Gillespie directs Emory’s James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference and authored the book 2017, “The New Black Politician: Cory Booker, Newark and Post-Racial America”.
How important do you see the efforts of suffrage organizations, such as the Black Votes Matter, the New Georgia Project and Fair Fight, in registering new voters in Georgia and mobilizing them to get to the polls?
It is important to point out that these organizations have actually been on the ground for a long time …. There is a well-established political science literature that states that if you remind people to show up to vote – especially if you give them a personal reminder – the more likely is that a person will show up.
You really need to talk to voters to convey the importance of the vote and to provide important information, especially for voters who are new. Groups such as the New Georgia Project, the Black Voters Matter or the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda participate in voter mobilization and outreach training and help ensure they target constituencies to maximize voter turnout.
This fits in with the larger story of how Georgia has changed over the past decade; that’s how we got to the point where Joe Biden could actually win the state. Nearly a decade ago, people like Stacey Abrams realized that Georgia’s demographics were changing and that there were more voters who were likely to be Democrats who moved to the state, but that they were not actually registered to vote. So what Stacey Abrams did is start registering groups that were likely to be democratic voters, even if her effort began as a non-partisan effort, and then make sure to help them become regular voters through mobilization, through outreach, through education, by reminding them.
In this way, they have managed to change the voters’ faces. Georgia’s electorate is now less white than it used to be, and because people of color are more likely to vote democratically – Asian-Americans and Hispanics break Democrats by almost 2 to 1 margin and African Americans break Democrats by about 9 to 1 margin – these numbers has helped Democrats reduce the gap between themselves and Republicans in important contests across the country.
On November 3, you have high participation across the board. You see this large African-American population and then you will add Asian-American and Hispanic voters, who make up 6 percent of the electorate [in Georgia] – but it’s actually twice as much as they were in 2012. So what you saw was what the multiracial coalition looks like, but you will not come to 2020 without a party building like people like Stacey Abrams had done.
What obstacles do you see African-American voters and other color voters facing these runoff races?
We can expect some wear and tear in the Democratic pool and in the Republican pool. The types of people who may have had to show up for Donald Trump, some of whom are low-profile voters, who would not be your typical Republican run-off voter. Among Democrats, color voters tend to be younger and do not tend to have the socio-economic resources that [facilitate] regular voice behavior and so there are disadvantages there. Both groups will face their challenges in getting their coalitions to vote.
There is unlimited money spent in the state in all respects, so there are enough resources to remind voters what is happening. Democrats will have plenty of incentives to try to get people to show up: One, they want to prove that November 3 was not a lust, and then two, control of the Senate is underway.
That said, Democrats must fight in color communities. One of the reasons why turnout has historically been lower in color communities is that people do not contact people of color at the same rate as they contact white people to give them reminders to vote. It does not matter who you are, your cultural background, what color your skin is – reminders work. Colored communities need more targeted outreach than they have historically received.
In the general election, we have seen some sensitivity to ensure that there were plenty of polling stations, partly due to [during] The primary election cycle in June, there were some places that historically have a tendency to have long lines. And then there were consolidations of [voting] districts due to Covid-19 and fewer voting workers.
I think the big question will be: Are all polling stations that were open for early voting during the general election cycle open during the run-off? In at least one county I know of, they are not. Will it create confusion? Will it discourage people from voting?
The second thing we also want to look at is whether there are changes in the polling stations on the day of the run-off compared to general election days, regardless of whether they are well-announced or not, and whether people actually feel that they have the opportunity to quickly calculate that they are in the wrong place. .
What information about black voters during the general election was most encouraging to you as a researcher in African American politics, and what information most concerned you?
I do not frame it in terms of what is encouraging or discouraging. While turnout is rising [were] everywhere overall and absolutely in absolute numbers, I would have liked African American turnout as a percentage of the total electorate to match the total percentage of registered voters.
The other thing that has received a lot of national attention is the initial polls that President Trump increased his vote among black women and black men – but especially among black men. It really guarantees future studies as something I am interested in as a research issue. The gains we saw for Trump among black men were still relatively small, and the overwhelming majority of black men still voted democratically in this election. [but] there are still things we want to explain.