At Mother Jones, Ari Berman explains why “Runoff Elections in Georgia Are Disasters for Democrats. Here’s Why This Time Is Different. Organizing against voter suppression and high turnout in November are giving Democrats hope“:
Democrats have believed for some time that a rapidly diversifying electorate would allow them to be competitive in Georgia, but repeated voter suppression efforts had kept that electorate from fully forming. Now, two years of determined organizing against voter suppression created the conditions for Joe Biden to carry the state by just under 12,000 votes, making him the first Democratic presidential candidate in 28 years to win Georgia.
“There were still long lines, there were still problems with absentee balloting,” says Lauren Groh-Wargo, CEO of the voting rights group Fair Fight Action and Abrams’ campaign manager in 2018. “But the collective work on litigation, advocacy, voter education, voter suppression mitigation that we and so many allies did really ensured that there was a multi-ethnic, multi-racial coalition that could come out to support Joe Biden.”
Berman notes, further:
The electorate in 2020 was the one Abrams envisioned in 2018. People of color made up nearly 40 percent of all voters, and Biden won roughly 70 percent of their votes. He improved on [Democratic candidate for governor Stacy] Abrams’ margin in eight counties in metro Atlanta, building a remarkably diverse coalition of new voters, young voters, people of color, and moderate white suburbanites. According to an analysis by the Democratic data firm Target Smart, Asian American turnout increased by 91 percent from 2016 to 2020, Latino turnout by 72 percent, and Black turnout by 20 percent, while white turnout grew by just 16 percent.
Between 2016 and 2020, 1 million new voters were registered through Georgia’s system of automatic voter registration at motor vehicle offices and registration drives by grassroots groups. Two-thirds of them were people of color. Amazingly, the number of eligible but unregistered Georgians fell from 22 percent in 2016 to just 2 percent in 2020.
“In addition to high-profile organizing work by Abrams and her allies,” Berman writes, “many restrictive voting rules that led to disenfranchisement in 2018 were also reformed through litigation and advocacy.” For example:
In 2020, it was harder for election officials to throw out mail ballots for mismatched signatures, and voters had a chance to fix problems with their ballots after Election Day. In 2018, Black and Latino voters were more likely than white voters to have their mail ballots rejected, and young voters were more likely than older voters. The overall rejection rate for mail ballots fell from 3.4 percent in 2018 to just .2 percent in November.
Counties in metro Atlanta processed absentee ballots more quickly and made their designs less confusing. When the secretary of state removed 300,000 voters who he claimed had died or moved from the rolls in December 2019, Fair Fight sued and reinstated 22,000 voters who were still eligible to vote. A law mandating that early voting locations be in government buildings was repealed, allowing the Atlanta Hawks’ arena to become a massive polling place in downtown Atlanta.
Berman notes that “groups like Fair Fight contacted 1 million voters a week urging them to make a plan to vote early, either in person or by mail. “When I would go to the polls, I would hear, ‘We’re not going to let them steal this one,’” says [Black Voters matter Founder Latosha] Brown. “That’s why I think you had so many people vote early.” Eighty percent of Georgians voted early, leading to many fewer problems on Election Day. It was by no means perfect—there were 11-hour lines on the first day of early voting in Atlanta—but people stood in line to make sure their votes were counted.”
Looking toward January 5th, “A million mail-in ballots have been requested for the runoff, an impressive number considering that 1.3 million people voted by mail in November. “I don’t think we’ll approach the numbers for the general, but I do think we’ll exceed turnout rates for any runoff we’ve seen in recent Georgia history,” [New Georgia Project Director Nse] Ufot says.”
Perhaps the biggest threat to Democratic hopes for the January 5th run-off is the closing of polling places in large counties like Cobb, ostensibly because of inadequate trained staff for the polls. That’s why the Georgia activists are emphasizing early voting by mail, which is on track to set a runoff record.