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Black Churches Join Forces in Georgia Voter-Registration Drive

A Georgia social justice organization has launched a 75-county voter registration campaign and an initiative encouraging minority voters to vote by mail using absentee ballots in the upcoming November 6 election.

ATLANTA (CN) — A Georgia social justice organization has launched a 75-county voter registration campaign and an initiative encouraging minority voters to vote by mail using absentee ballots in the upcoming November 6 election.

Organizers hope to register 20,000 people to vote during the registration drive and plan to promote the use of absentee ballots in African Methodist Episcopal churches in Georgia.

The New Georgia Project, a non-partisan Georgia-based partner of Faith in Action, launched the campaign on September 25, the annual holiday recognized as National Voter Registration Day. Called the "Vote By Mail" campaign, the initiative is co-sponsored by Justice Clergy 100 and by the three largest AME churches in Georgia.

"This is the first time that the bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal bodies in Georgia [African Methodist Episcopal, Christian Methodist Episcopal and African Methodist Episcopal Zion] have united to encourage their congregants to ‘Vote by Mail,'" New Georgia Project Executive Director Nse Ufot said in a statement.

The New Georgia Project was founded by Stacey Abrams, the current Democratic candidate for governor, in 2013 while she was serving as the Democrats' minority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives.

Since its founding, the organization has registered more than 250,000 Georgians to vote.

Abrams is currently in a tight race against Republican gubernatorial candidate and current Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp. If Abrams emerges victorious, she will become the first black woman ever elected governor of any state.

The two candidates' rivalry goes back to 2014, when Kemp launched a voter fraud investigation against the New Georgia Project after the organization's efforts to register minority voters yielded over 80,000 applications.

Kemp's investigation found that 53 applications were allegedly forged. No one was ever charged with a crime and the New Georgia Project was cleared of any wrongdoing in 2017.

Now, the organization is continuing its efforts to register minority Georgia voters while the Abrams campaign hones in on a strategy that places a high premium on minority voter turnout.

“We know that voters of color consistently face barriers to the ballot box and we aren’t leaving anything to chance. We are not only registering people to vote, we want to facilitate their participation by encouraging them to vote by mail," Ufot said.

The New Georgia Project's campaign to encourage voters to vote using mail-in absentee ballots comes immediately after a federal judge ruled that state election officials would not be forced to replace Georgia's electronic voting machines with paper ballots statewide.

Although U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg agreed with voting rights advocates that Georgia's direct-recording electronic voting machines are susceptible to hacking, the judge ruled that fiscal and organizational issues would make an overhaul of the state's electoral system impossible before the November election.

During a phone conference Tuesday morning, Ufot explained the benefits that absentee ballots offer.

"It's important to point out that voting by mail, specifically with absentee ballots, is one of the few ways Georgia voters can vote and also have a paper trail," Ufot said.

Georgia is one of five states still using electronic voting machines without a paper trail backup.

"Voters who elect to vote via absentee ballots have a paper record of how their vote was recorded... Voters also have time with their ballots. There are tons of issues on the ballot that are important to Georgians and taking your time to go through those issues and do your research is an opportunity we want Georgians to take advantage of," Ufot continued.

On the decision to implement this campaign through AME churches, Ufot said, "I can't think of a more lasting and enduring institution in the south and amongst people of color than the black church."

"Part of the mission of The New Georgia Project is to create 'super voters' in underserved and under-represented communities–those voters who vote in every election in which they eligible. We want to make it clear that there isn't a place we won't go to connect with underserved, under-represented people of color so that we can be the best advocates possible," Ufot said.

"It's really difficult to overstate just how important this midterm election is. It's an election about the direction of the country and the direction of Georgia. We are convinced that voting is not only a civic responsibility, it is a sacred act and a moral obligation," Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, the leader of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, added.

"We have a sitting Secretary of State who expressed in no uncertain terms a few years ago as The New Georgia Project was registering thousands of voters–expressed his concern that we were registering all these minority voters... We intend to make his worst nightmare come true and register as many voters as we can and get those voters to the polls," Warnock said.

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