By Helen Butler, Executive Director, The People’s Agenda
This year’s legislative session has brought with it many twists and turns. On the heels of record turnout during our General and U.S. Senate Runoffs, and following the January 6th insurrection on Capitol Hill, members of our state legislature sought to totally upend the democratic process in Georgia. After a slew of voter suppression bills aimed at limiting access to the ballot passed along partisan lines, Governor Brian Kemp recently signed into law an omnibus bill that rolls back voting rights, especially for the most underrepresented and vulnerable members of our communities.
It’s hard to believe that in 2021 we find ourselves on the front lines of a battle against Jim Crow-era like restrictions. Given the massive turnout by voters of color and traditionally “hard to count” residents of our state, however, it’s sadly not a surprise. But, despite the odds against us, we remain undeterred and more committed than ever to make sure we have a fully functioning, equitable and participatory democracy at work in this state. Instead of making it harder to vote, we fervently believe that now is the time to make engaging in the civic process easier for Georgia residents.
The people of this great state, especially New Americans and people of color, have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, by November of last year, Black Georgians had filed 71% more continued jobless claims than white, Asian and Hispanic/Latinx residents combined. The dramatic increase in anti-Asian hate nationwide hit us particularly hard when just weeks ago six Asian women were brutally murdered at Atlanta-areas spas in senseless acts of violence and cowardice. And Latino members of our communities, many of whom are classified as “essential workers” account for nearly one-quarter (21%) of active COVID cases around the state. The social and economic consequences of the pandemic are very real, and in times like this, our elected leaders must reflect the needs and values of the communities they represent. Unfortunately, partisan politics has taken precedence over the needs of real people and the new voting laws we now face will make it harder for significant portions of our communities to actively participate in electoral politics.
Contrary to what their proponents claim, these laws do nothing to protect the electoral process and, instead, do everything to reduce voting options for everyday Georgia residents, especially members of our historically underserved and underrepresented communities. The most egregious of laws restricts voting by mail (absentee voting), shortens the time frames to conduct runoff elections, increases voter identification requirements, reduces the presence of dropboxes in communities, and wrests control of elections administration from local elections officials. The power grab at play serves to do little more than complicate our elections process and further disconnects people from participating fully in our representative democracy. Yet and still, we persist.
Lawsuits are already underway challenging these mass attempts at voter suppression. And while we disavow any legislation that disadvantages or disenfranchises Georgia voters, we are prepared to meet this moment. Our job, as organizers and community advocates, is to make sure that Georgia voters are well apprised of the impact of these new rules and that they are adequately prepared to register and turn out the vote in future elections. Georgia voters deserve to be full participants in our democratic society, and where legislation has failed to make their participation easier, organizations like ours stand on the front lines ready to help people better connect with the electoral process.
Faced with the most egregious attack on voting rights our state has seen in at least two generations, we are encouraging people to stay vigilant and aware. We understand that there is so much that life is throwing our way at this moment, but we want people to remain optimistic, hopeful, and engaged. If our voices and votes didn’t matter so much no one would actively try to suppress them. We know that the road ahead may not be easy, but we are determined to help our state’s democracy live up to expectations. Our voices matter and our votes will count. 2020 turnout was just the beginning. We are forging ahead with an even deeper focus and stronger sense of purpose. Together, we intend to set in motion a wave of civic engagement the likes of which this state has never seen before.
- The People’s Agenda
- League of Women Voters of Georgia
- Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
- Women Watch Afrika
- Feminist Women’s Health Center
- Georgia STAND-UP
- Georgia Equality
- Rep GA Institute Inc.
- Step Up Savannah
- GALEO Latino Community Development Fund
- GALEO Impact Fund, Inc.
- Women Engaged
- 9to5 Georgia
- Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates
- ACLU of Georgia
- Care in Action
- Center for Pan Asian Community Services (CPACS)
- Progress Georgia
- New Georgia Project
- Partnership for Southern Equity
- All Voting is Local, Georgia
- Black Voters Matter Fund
- Atlanta Jobs with Justice
- Georgia WAND Education Fund
- Environment Georgia
- Georgia Budget and Policy Institute
- Georgia NAACP
- Georgia Muslim Voter Project
- Common Cause GA
- Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta
- McIntosh SEED
- National Domestic Workers Alliance-Georgia
- Faith in Public Life
- New American Pathways
- National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum
- Georgia Conservation Voters