Georgia’s legacy of voter suppression is driving historic Black turnout

Some experts say Latinos will be the second largest voting group in this year’s election. But the group’s ethnical and cultural diversity makes it a particularly difficult one for the political world to understand, and an extremely difficult one for both parties to appeal to.

“You know, so far, we haven’t had issues this week,” said Janine Eveler, the county’s director of elections and voter registration, on Thursday. “I’m hopeful that whenever [state officials] did to improve the system will continue to hold the increased demand.”

Troubles at the ballot box are propelling engagement, particularly among Black voters. An analysis from ProPublica’s Electionland found that predominantly Black precincts in the state were more likely to have the longest wait times, despite a surge in voter registrations there.

At the same time, participation even among Democrats’ most loyal voting bloc has soared ahead of the general election. More than 737,000 African Americans have already voted in Georgia. Black voting is on track to eclipse its 2008 record, when turnout increased by 8 percentage points among Black Georgians hyped to vote for Barack Obama.

“The thing is, this is the largest turnout, I think, statewide that I have ever seen,” said former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, noting a similar pattern nationwide. “And that’s usually a very good sign. It’s a good sign for democracy. Whoever they voted for.”

The former congressman, now 88, was recently named to a statewide elections improvement task force formed by Raffensperger. And, thanks to voter enthusiasm, he’s optimistic about Democrats’ chances.

“The candidates now have more confidence, and more money, and more organization,” Young said. “And some of the best commercials I have ever seen in my life.”

‘The stakes feel extraordinarily high’

The high level of Black voter engagement is the result of years of grassroots organizing, with a particular focus on mobilizing new voters — and protecting the vote. The New Georgia Project, which is marshaling young people of color across the state, averages a half-million calls and texts to millennial and Gen Z voters per week, according to its CEO, Nse Ufot.

“People are understanding that they are doing what they have to do, that the stakes feel extraordinarily high,” Ufot said.

Georgia Democrats are building their hopes for a blue Georgia on record early voting numbers and turnout. Early voting among Georgians under 40 is more than three times what it was in 2016, as nearly 600,000 young voters in the state have cast a ballot, according to the New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan group that registers new voters.

And while Black voters are setting records, Asian American and Latino voters in particular will make the difference in the racially diverse Atlanta suburbs. According to data from APIAVote, which mobilizes Asian American voters, the number of AAPI voters in Georgia grew by 43 percent between 2010 and 2016. The Latino population in the state is one of the fastest-growing in the nation, swelling by 118 percent over the last two decades, according to an analysis by the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Despite partisan gerrymandering that contributed to leaving more than 80 percent of Georgia’s state legislative races uncontested in 2016, demographic shifts are turning those suburban Atlanta counties increasingly Democratic.

Johns Creek, an affluent suburb just north of Atlanta and one-time Republican stronghold, which is now nearly a quarter Asian, voted blue in 2018. Gun control activist Lucy McBath, a Democrat and the mother of murdered Black teen Jordan Davis, defeated the Republican incumbent for the 6th Congressional District seat, which includes Johns Creek and other Atlanta suburbs.

“They’re really doing the work,” said Abigail Collazo, a Georgia-based Democratic strategist and former Stacey Abrams spokesperson, of Asian American voters. “They’re not automatically Biden’s supporters. So you’re talking like, not just, ‘Oh, let’s just turn out the AAPI vote. It’s persuasion. It’s mobilization, its representation — and Kamala [Harris].’”

Still, President Donald Trump maintains a hold on his base in rural Georgia counties and whiter Atlanta suburbs, where voter skepticism has also driven an uptick in early votes by absentee ballot. A New York Times/Siena College poll out earlier this month shows Trump and Biden locked in a tie among Georgia voters, as did a CBS News Battleground Tracker poll released Sunday.

It’s led state Rep. Matthew Gambill, a Republican whose district includes Cartersville, a northern city in metro Atlanta, to doubt reports of a Democratic sweep next month.

“I think in my area that [voting] has gone very well,” he said, noting improvements in the state’s electronic voting system. “I still don’t see Georgia as a blue state, as some are saying that it is. I’m not 100 percent sure about that. I do still think that Georgia is more of a red state.”

‘A form of voter suppression’

Still, some problems persist — and threaten to make a compound difference in the outcome of the election. The online reporting software that allows voters to view wait times at their nearest polling location have proven faulty, with fast-moving lines falsely showing wait times above 60 and 90 minutes. And despite the state’s mandate to send absentee ballots to all Georgia voters who request them, some at the polls said they haven’t received theirs yet.

Jonie Blount, a Cobb County voter, said she received her absentee ballot in the mail but was wary of mailing it in due to Trump’s attacks on the U.S. Postal Service. But due to an injury, she was unable to wait in line so decided to drop off her ballot in person. She’s still concerned about the safety of her vote. In June, she learned her mail-in ballot for the Democratic primary was not accepted because it didn’t reach her assigned precinct in time.

“I hope that the ballot boxes are secure and there’s no way that anyone can get in and tamper or take out [my ballot],” said Blount, who is Black.

And while lines are faster moving, state officials have yet to designate the adequate amount of voting locations in keeping with state regulations. While Georgia law mandates that voting locations cap the number of people served at 2,000, counties serve well above 3,000 daily in some places, according to data from independent data analyst Ryan Anderson.

“It is a form of voter suppression to massively underfund and understaff and [under]prepare for the turnout that we have. After what we saw in June no one should have been caught off guard that we were going to have a massive, massive early vote turnout,” said state Rep. Erick Allen, one of a handful of Democratic legislators representing Smyrna, an Atlanta suburb. His district saw some of the longest wait times at the polls one week into early voting.

“Either it’s voter suppression or complete incompetence on the planning,” Allen said.

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