For Groups Seeking to Engage Voters, the Effort in Georgia Not Yet Over

At the excruciatingly precise fulcrum of power in the U.S. Senate sits Georgia where two coming elections are the result of trends developing for many years that include the voting patterns of white, well-educated women in suburban Atlanta.

In this Nov. 15, 2019, file photo, former Georgia House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams, speaks at the National Press Club in Washington. (AP Photo/Michael A. McCoy)

(CN) — President-elect Joe Biden’s ultimate win in the typically deep-red Georgia within tens of thousands of votes, resulting in a hand recount of the ballots before the Peach State’s Secretary of State certified the results, was hard to miss.

It was the result of efforts to organize minority voting populations and years of population growth in the South and yet, the work of groups seeking to engage southern voters is still not done. The two runoff races to determine Georgia’s senators will decide which party controls the Senate.

The result of the newly minted battleground-state status is often attributed to one person: Stacey Abrams, a rising star in the Democratic Party, voting rights activist and one time gubernatorial candidate.

Three days after the election, while the votes were still being counted though Biden had amassed more votes than President Donald Trump, Abrams took to Twitter to thank the voters, volunteers, organizations and grassroots activists for their “efforts over the years to create this new Georgia” while describing the importance of the runoff Senate races.

But the shift of Georgia going blue is also a story of demographic change.

The Atlanta Metro Chamber says the city is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States. Data on its website says the area has added about 734,000 people from 2010 to 2019 to the counties surrounding the state’s capital.

Professor Charles Bullock, who teaches political science at the University of Georgia, said this trend is not limited only to Georgia. In Texas, and up and down the coastal South from Virginia to Florida, people have been relocating to the South who are typically more liberal than the conservative long-time residents.

Gwinnett County, for instance, which sits to the east of Atlanta, is the most diverse county in Georgia, perhaps one of the most diverse counties in the nation, Bullock said.

The demographic trend towards this moment, when Georgia would be competitive, has been developing for years. And part of the factors this year has also been the voting patterns of white, well-educated women in suburban Atlanta, Bullock said.

The last time Georgia went Democratic during a presidential race, the 1992 race between Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, was due in part to what ultimately propelled Clinton to the White House: the presence of third-party candidate Ross Perot who netted about 19% of the votes that election.

Republicans won the state Legislature in the early 2000s, a moment Bullock described as the high-water mark of the Republican Party in Georgia fueled partially by redistricting.

The “House switches in 2004 after a court case requires the redrawing of the Legislature,” Bullock said. “The Democrats had drawn them very aggressively and they performed, but the courts threw it out because what the Democrats had done is underpopulated south Georgia and Atlanta, where Democrats did well and overpopulated north Georgia and the suburban areas.”

In the years following though, Georgia Republicans have been winning state-wide races by thinner and thinner margins.

The flip happened, Bullock said, because Georgia makes registering to vote as simple as checking a box on its driver’s license forms. Combine that with a high-interest race like a presidential election, Bullock said, and you get the results of the tight presidential race in Georgia.

Of course, over the weeks leading up to November, groups seeking to increase voter engagement have been sending mailers.

Union 2020, a project linked to the progressive political consulting firm Atlas Project, sent a mailer, for instance, informing voters on the labor stances of Republican Senator David Perdue and his challenger Democrat Jon Ossoff. Americans for Prosperity Action sent several pro-Perdue mailers reminding voters the fate of the Supreme Court sits in the balance in Georgia’s Senate races.

The industry group for the firearms industry, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, has also sent mailers of its own and considers the runoff elections as part of the 2020 races.

“NSSF will continue to provide an education outreach on the candidates and how their public stances and comments will affect the firearm industry and Second Amendment rights for Georgians,” said Mark Oliva, NSSF public affairs director, in an email.

Oliva said Georgia is a “state that values Second Amendment rights,” and is home to firearm manufacturers such as Taurus USA, Glock and Heckler & Koch.

One mailer sent by NSSF urged voters to “protect your rights” and request an absentee ballot, fill it out as soon as it arrives and to promptly send it back.

The Democratic and Republican parties of Georgia did not return Courthouse News’ requests for comment.

Meanwhile, the New Georgia Project, a group co-founded by Abrams, helped register 500,000 Georgians since its start six years ago. During the wind-up to Nov. 3, they sent 1.2 million text messages and knocked on the doors of 300,000 Georgia homes, according to Erica Clemmons Dean, organizing director.

The group hopes to initiate 2 million more conversations with Georgians about the importance of the runoff election, Clemmons Dean said.

Simply signing up voters seeking driver’s licenses is inadequate for registering every eligible voter, Clemmons Dean said, as some people don’t have a Georgia driver’s license or miss the box at the DMV’s office because they perhaps believe they are already registered.

The goal of the New Georgia Project is to change the culture around voting, to increase the number of voters who cast ballots regularly among the state’s Black and brown communities as well as rural voters and voters in the southern part of the state, Clemmons Dean said.

These are “voters not typically touched by candidates and their conversations on a consistent basis,” Clemmons Dean said, but are directly impacted by government policies such as the issue of Medicaid expansion.

In the leadup to Election Day, New Georgia Project held an event on Twitch, the streaming platform popular with video gaming enthusiasts, for a Twitch the Vote event.

During the runoff race, it planned to partner with When We All Vote to host a food drive to hand out food and encourage voter registration.

“The barriers that we have to break through are the fact that a lot of people aren’t focused on that when they are hungry,” Clemmons Dean said. “A lot of people aren’t focused on trying to go out and vote when they just lost their job due to Covid and now the moratorium was lifted on rent.”

The upcoming redistricting effort is a process the New Georgia Project is hoping to encourage more engagement around.

“We flipped the state to be blue, but we need to engage more with our legislators,” Clemmons Dean said. “We have a big redistricting plan that’s coming up and that’s going to be introduced statewide so we want our voters to be engaged in that process as well.”

In the coming months, Georgia, like the rest of the states in the union, will go through a redistricting process after the 2020 census. The Republican-dominated Legislature will lead that process and Bullock said they will have to confront the changing demographics of the state.

“I think what Republicans are going to confront this next round is a realization they may not be able to save all of their people. When you’re doing redistricting, you’re trying to come up with a plan that will last for 10 years,” Bullock said.

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