For the grassroots organizers in Georgia, the feverish weeks between now and January 5 are not just about getting the right people to vote again.
They want to make sure that those high-stakes votes cast in the Senate runoff election count.
Georgia’s electoral code “should be as restrictive as possible,” said Nsé Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, a non-partisan group that aims to register and attract new voters. “Only through massive, sophisticated, networked organizing campaigns and huge media narrative campaigns can we even carry out the kind of interventions we need so that blacks, new Americans and women, quite frankly, can vote.”
The New Georgia Project, founded in 2014, and the many grassroots groups and activists who have worked for years to get voters involved in the state have helped educate and mobilize voters, while encouraging large numbers to stay alive during the pandemic Vote post. The resulting historic turnout helped push President-elect Joe Biden over the top with around 12,000 votes in the state, and Georgia going blue for the first time since 1992.
Now with all eyes still on Georgia and U.S. Senate party control, proxies and organizers are working to keep that momentum going while highlighting the tough battle they waged against the pieces of state electoral law that they did say Make it unnecessarily difficult for some Georgians to cast a ballot.
In addition to political interests, Georgia Republicans, who reiterate President Donald Trump’s false claims about electoral fraud, have lauded even stricter election restrictions in the New Year, alarming proponents of voting rights who say the state already has some of the strictest rules in place the nation has.
Currently, Georgia is combining the kind of reforms that normally make it easier to vote – automatic voter registration, early voting, and unexcused postal voting – with strict rules like aggressive voter cleanup guidelines and tough voter identification laws that often make it harder to get a vote especially for color pickers.
That makes Georgia a “mixed bag” when it comes to access, said Wendy Weiser, a senior national suffrage expert and vice president of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law.
Nineteen states have some form of automatic voter registration, and 34 states do not have apologetic postal votes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. According to this group, Georgia has slightly more than the average number of early election days.
In order to assess the fairness of electoral laws for all municipalities, the restrictions must be carefully analyzed.
“Voting restrictions do not apply to all voters equally. In Georgia, as in other states, they are excluding black and brown voters with higher rates and possibly students, ”said Weiser. “That can actually have an impact on the election results in close races.”
Experts point out that Georgia’s history of restrictive, discriminatory electoral laws goes back to literacy tests designed to disenfranchise black voters after they were granted the right to vote in the 15th Amendment.
For Ufot and other proponents, the devil is in the details.
“The history of the Georgia and Georgia elections is a rift between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law – and how the electoral law is enforced in our state,” said Ufot.
She ticked examples: Automatic voter registration, which is seen by voting proxies as a sensible way to encourage more people to participate, only works for voters who receive photo ID from the Department of Driver Services, which not all Georgians have.
Additionally, the state requires voters to register 29 days before election day – one of the earliest deadlines in the nation – but Ufot said counties don’t always process those registrations that month.
In the past, she said, tens of thousands of voters registered with the New Georgia Project were left without a choice, despite filling out a voter registration form more than a month in advance.
In addition, Georgia was one of the first states to introduce a strict electoral ID law in the 2008 elections, which in its original form did not include outsourcing for people who could not afford the fees associated with government photo IDs. There are now several ways for voters to obtain free photo ID. The state attempted to pass a law requiring proof of citizenship on certain voter registrations until a court overturned it.
“There were many people born in hospitals in rural Georgia. Their information was recorded in a family Bible,” said Helen Butler, coalition executive director for People’s Agenda. The coalition is a non-partisan group that aims to attract and mobilize voters to participate in government.
Butler’s group uses door signs to remind voters of important deadlines for requesting and sending postal ballot papers and early voting. They send organizers to communities to educate them about the electoral process, and they also give voters rides to the elections.
She said it was hard work becoming a voter and it shouldn’t get more difficult with more barriers.
Proponents say the state’s aggressive approach to maintaining the electoral roll – a tactic that voters regularly crosses off the books – makes it easy for voters to be accidentally disenfranchised. That month, the Black Voters Matter Fund, Transformative Justice Coalition and Rainbow Push Coalition sued that nearly 200,000 people who were purged during routine list maintenance last year were still eligible to vote. They also challenged a law that will kick voters off the list if they fail to vote or communicate with election officials for nine years.
And while many counties significantly increased the number of early voting sites in November, it was cut back in some areas for the runoff elections. Elections in Georgia are largely conducted at the county level, which means everything from the early voting hours to the number of polling stations can vary widely across the state.
Some districts reduced early voting, earned criticism, and sparked at least five proxy lawsuits warning the changes could suppress votes, which could harm Black and Latino voters in particular. As a result, these proponents argued, long lines formed in Cobb County, the third largest state, and turnout declined in the first few days of the early vote.
Two Republican lawsuits were filed to try to stop the use of unsupervised Dropboxing after Trump made unsubstantiated claims that the boxes lead to increased fraud. One lawsuit was dismissed this week. Dropboxing, a common way for voters to securely return their postal ballots without mailing them in, is provided by the counties and ballots are collected by election officials. They have been used for years with no problem.
State lawmakers have also vowed to pass stricter voting laws, including requiring an apology for absenteeism – undoing a Republican system introduced years ago.
“Blacks only used postal voting this year because they didn’t trust it. They believed they had to vote in person, ”Butler said. “When we trained them, our lawmakers wanted to change all of that – they wanted you to have a reason to vote in the mail.”
Legislators also said it would overturn a state-democratic consent form in 2020 to unify the Signature Conformity Guidelines to verify people’s identity and eligibility. Color voters have historically faced higher rejection rates than white voters when voting by mail.
Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who has tried to reconcile assurances that fraud did not affect the election of Georgia with his own calls for additional voting restrictions, has also approached groups like the New Georgia Project with an investigation, claiming it have repeatedly tried to register as ineligible voters. Ufot dismissed the investigation as “ridiculous”.
Marc Elias, the attorney who received the informed consent, told reporters at a press conference in December that he would go to court to prevent Republicans from revoking consent and access to the ballot box.
“I’ll be spending a good deal of my time fighting it in 2021 and 2022,” he said. “We’ll see them in court.”