Groups seek to get Black vote out for Democrats in Georgia runoffs

Activist groups in Georgia that were the backbone of the effort to turn Georgia blue this election cycle haven’t slowed down, their newest goal being to drive Georgians to the polls once again on Jan. 5 for the state’s Senate runoff elections.

How the runoffs play out will decide the fate of the Senate. If Democrats flip the two seats, they will have a razor-thin majority in the chamber, but if Republicans retain at least one of the seats, they will maintain their grip on the chamber.

A GOP-controlled Senate would represent a significant barrier to the incoming Biden administration that has a slate of proposed policies that it would like to see passed during President-elect Joe Biden’s first months in office.

Biden’s narrow win in Georgia has given Democrats hopes of winning the January contests.

Biden’s victory was the first time that a Democratic presidential candidate has carried the state since 1992, and much of the credit for flipping the state has gone to a strong coalition of grassroots organizations, including New Georgia Project and the groups supported by former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams (D), that worked on driving Black and other underrepresented voters to the polls while also combating voter suppression.

Nse Ufot, New Georgia Project’s CEO, told The Hill the equation for success hasn’t changed, that “elections in Georgia are determined by who shows up, and whose votes get counted.”

“There’s no world where a [12,670] vote difference, a 0.25 percent vote difference, would have resulted in a Biden victory, but for the work of groups like New Georgia Project and Fair Fight Action and the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda to protect the integrity of our elections,” Ufot said, referring to Biden’s tight margin of victory.

“We’re talking about, you know, millions of text messages, millions of phone calls. We knocked on nearly half a million doors in the middle of a pandemic, millions of impressions with our digital ad content that was designed to neutralize the disinformation and misinformation that black voters and brown voters are subject to,” Ufot explained.

“And we’re going to have to do it again.”

An analysis by The New York Times found that while majority Black districts in the state broke for Biden by a point more than they did for Hillary Clinton in 2016, there were half a point worse in districts that were over 80 percent Black or majority Hispanic. Black voters also made up slightly less of Georgia’s total voting electorate compared to 2016.

This said, nationwide, Black Americans, specifically Black women, were Democrats’ most loyal voting bloc once again this election cycle, suggesting that if Black turnout increases for the runoffs, Democrats could pick up ground in the races.

In the Nov. 3 election, Sen. David Perdue (R) topped Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff by less than 100,000 votes but failed to secure 50 percent of the vote. The Rev. Raphael Warnock (D) actually beat Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) in the state’s special Senate election by over 340,000 votes, but also failed to get half of the vote.

Both GOP incumbents are currently favored, as Loeffler is expected to receive a hefty boost from Georgians who voted for Rep. Doug Collins (R) in November. He was the third-place vote getter.

Nonetheless, Democrats have stayed optimistic about their chances.

Georgians “said ‘we vote all the time, yeah, we’re getting closer,’ but this time we voted and we actually did it, which validates and gives people the inspiration to say … ‘we can do it again,’” Martin Luther King III told The Hill.

King III, the oldest living child of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., co-founded with former presidential candidate Andrew Yang (D) and a handful of other celebrities Win Both Seats, a fundraising initiative to help support grassroots organizations in Georgia such as the New Georgia Project.

One of the focus areas for grassroots groups in the state, King III noted, is young voters.

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University estimates that over half of voters under 30 voted this election cycle and made up 17 percent of all the votes in the country. This number was even higher in Georgia, with youth voters making up 20 percent of all votes in the state. 

More encouraging for Democrats is that 90 percent of Black youth voters in the state voted for Biden. Because of this, Biden outpaced Trump with 18- to-29-year-olds in Georgia by 187,000 votes. Better yet from the perspective of Democrats, there are roughly 23,000 17-year-olds in Georgia that turn 18 before Jan. 5, making them eligible to vote.

“Georgia, is the number one state in the country with a 35 percent jump from youth registration from [2016] to youth voter registration in [2020],” Ufot said. “And so, it’s crucial, it’s essential, and they are definitely part of Georgia’s progressive majority.”

Additionally, finalized voting data that was released by the Georgia Board of Elections last Friday showed a significant amount of “undervoting,” a somewhat common occurrence in which voters only vote for the presidential candidate and not any down-ballot races. 

Over 46,000 Georgians voted in the presidential but not in the Perdue-Ossoff race. More than 83,000 voters did the same with the Loeffler-Warnock race.

Ufot, King III and LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter (BVM), all emphasized education around the issues and the candidates as another priority.

“There is some momentum going,” Brown told The Hill as she made her way to Savannah as part of BVM’s bus tour campaign through Georgia to get out the vote. “I think people will pay attention to the race a little bit more than they would have in a normal kind of election year …  but I do think that … we’ve got to educate people on the significance of that race as it relates to Georgia.”

We have to explain “why voting is an important tactic and a larger strategy that’s designed to bring about the change that [Georgians] seek,” Ufot said. “Part of it takes time; you have to listen. People will tell you what they care about, people will tell you what their priorities are. … It’s a great honor and great privilege and we try to be thoughtful while we’re talking [to Georgians] about voting and why [it matters].”

Tags Andrew Yang Black voters David Perdue Doug Collins Georgia Georgia Senate runoffs Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Kelly Loeffler voting rights Young voters
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