As the campaigns get ready for the sprint to November, progressives across the state are wondering if we really have a chance to change the political leadership in this state, and if so, how can both activists and average voters help Democrats win. This Peach will check the current temperature of the state of the races, and offer a few top-line thoughts on what’s ahead. But what we know for sure in Georgia is that this is not an election to sit out. We all need to be “all in.”
Georgia had a historic victory in 2020, giving 16 electoral college votes to Joe Biden, sending both Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to the U.S. Senate after the January 2021 runoff, and racking up a few good state legislative wins. These victories happened because we had good candidates and well-run campaigns. Several other factors contributed. Demographic shifts, and increased voter registration, voter enthusiasm and turnout, in addition to the specific motivation of ousting Trump from office all led to electoral success. Also, we had a strong network of independent, non-partisan organizations that worked to get voters to the polls for the general and the runoff elections.
Because we had these victories in 2020-21, we know we have the possibility of victory this November. The demographic shifts towards younger voters and voters of color continue. Georgia is almost a majority-minority state, and these groups largely vote Democratic. The independent infrastructure that helped in 2020 is certainly bigger and more experienced in helping increase turnout that will help good candidates win.
“I think you cannot discount how much it means for Georgia voters to see on a national scale, what a difference it made for this state to elect both Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff,” said Melita Easters, executive director of Georgia WIN List. “Because the successes of the Biden agenda rests on the shoulders of those two folks from Georgia, this helps us understand the importance of our vote and will drive voter enthusiasm in future elections."
Our Georgia races are again in the national spotlight. Democrats certainly see the importance of re-electing Senator Warnock to a full six year term. Stacey Abrams would be the first African American governor elected in the country. And secretary of state candidate Bee Nguyen would be the first Vietnamese American elected state-wide in the U.S. These historic campaigns are garnering national attention and funding that will help them win.
Other signs point to success. Both Abrams and Warnock at the top of the ticket are gifted campaigners and fundraisers. Each has raised significantly more money than their Republican opponents. And other groups such as the Democratic Party and independent organizations are even smarter, more strategic and well-resourced with both experienced staff and knowledgeable volunteers.
Most importantly, a reason to be optimistic is that we know from poll after poll that Georgians do not agree with the extreme policy agendas of the Republicans. On issue after issue, from gun safety to education funding, to environmental protections, Governor Kemp and most of the elected Republicans are out of step with the concerns and values of well over half of the Georgia electorate. Georgia also ranks low among states in a variety of quality of life measures such as maternal health, broadband access, and affordable housing among others. Perhaps the most salient issue of concern to voters is the ban on abortion and reproductive freedom. Polling shows that Georgia voters are more likely to vote for a candidate who will reverse Georgia’s extreme abortion restrictions. Not only Abrams and Warnock, but also down ballot Democrats are strong champions for these and indeed the other issues of concern to voters.
Despite these reasons for optimism, we must be clear eyed about the hurdles. Governor Kemp has spent much of the last four years, traveling this state on the taxpayer dime, shaking hands, eating bbq and choppin’, whatever that means. More importantly, he has used the power of his office to create policies that are talking points for his campaign. Policies such as permitless gun carry, the abortion bans, and restrictive voting procedures are red meat to his base, even if deeply unpopular among the general Georgia voting population. He has also used his gubernatorial authority to gain influence by numerous appointments, by deploying or withholding federal stimulus and Covid relief funding, and by engineering massive state tax and other funding support for large economic development projects. Stacey Abrams almost beat Brian Kemp in 2018 by 50,000 votes. But Kemp is an incumbent now, with the extra power and votes this brings.
Another hurdle is the problem of redistricting. This is the first general election under the newly gerrymandered districts. Based on a court ruling, the new maps may be found to violate the Voting Rights Act, but these are the maps we will use in November. One of the results of our gerrymandered districts is that we have little competition for Georgia congressional races. The exception is Congressional District 2 in southwest Georgia, but it still leans Democratic. And we have only a few competitive Georgia house or senate seats that could flip to the Democratic side. Georgia is not unique in the nation. A recent report by the Brennan Center estimates the battle for control of the U.S. House will be fought on the “narrowest of terrains under maps artificially engineered to reduce competition.” However, the lack of competitive districts does not lessen the opportunity for state-wide wins.
This year’s election will certainly be close. But it is not an election to merely watch from the sidelines. We need an “all hands on deck” effort and an optimistic, upbeat and positive approach to winning. When people ask what the best way to help our candidates win, the answer is to just pick some activity you will enjoy, either with one of the campaigns, or an independent, non-partisan effort.
Learn all you can about the details of voting, and especially the new restrictions imposed by the new voting laws. The non-partisan Georgia Voter Guide has a wealth of information about how to vote, and includes a nice podcast discussing voting issues.
Another source is the non-partisan Go Vote Georgia a project of ProGeorgia, the coalition of Georgia groups that have civic engagement as part of their missions. They are dedicated to helping educate voters and to get them to the polls. Most of the coalition’s groups need and want volunteers for nonpartisan GOTV (Get Out the Vote), work that can include phone banking, texting, post card writing, door knocking or election protection at voting sites. And of course, individual candidates’ campaigns and the Democratic Party of Georgia all need volunteers. Future issues of the Peach will highlight some specific opportunities.
Most importantly, reach out and have authentic conversations with anyone and everyone who can vote in Georgia–family members and neighbors, co-workers, your mail delivery person, a clerk in the grocery store. Do not be shy. And make generous use of social media to amplify support for candidates and progressive issues.
“We can remind people that abortion rights are on the ballot,” said Ashley Robinson, executive director of the Georgia communications hub, Progress Georgia. “And in other ways, we're actually fighting for our democracy. The power is in our hands. And so I think reminding people of their power, that their vote is actually the thing that is going to help us to take steps toward a better democracy in Georgia”
Ask people to check their voter registration for accuracy or to register to vote. Voters have until October 11 to register or update their registration address. Also, persons who will turn 18 by November 8, can go ahead and register now. You can download the secretary of state’s app to your cell phone and offer to check a person’s registration.
This is especially important now because, in late 2021 and early 2022 the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) apparently did a software update that disabled automatic voter registration. Before the problem was fixed the number of new registrations dropped dramatically. Voter advocates should encourage everyone to check their registration, but especially be on the lookout for those who might have fallen into this gap in automatic voter registration.
Because of our new gerrymandered districts, another critical task is being spearheaded by Fair Districts Georgia, a non-partisan organization that advocates against gerrymandering. It is asking candidates to take a pledge to advocate for fair maps in the future. When you meet candidates of any party, ask them if they will take this pledge. It requires candidates to promise to work for fair and transparent maps in the next cycle, and also to end mid-cycle redistricting and prison gerrymandering.
What is clear now is the power of our vote. Tamieka Atkins, executive director of ProGeorgia said that the 2020 election in Georgia had astronomical turnout. “People's ballot was their voice. So we have to believe if we were that powerful then, if we can turn out in those numbers, that force doesn't just go away. Ultimately, we really are building the habit of voting.”
Between now and November, we all need to do as much as we can, and then still do more. But the overarching message is that this is an election in Georgia of generational importance, and average voters hold the key to success in November.