On Nov. 4, as an anxious nation awaited the results of the 2020 presidential election, all eyes turned to Georgia — a state that embodies the conflicts of America’s political system. By the time vote counting ground to a halt over the weekend, President-elect Joe Biden won Georgia by a mere 14,149 votes. While Georgia is a microcosm of the positive changes taking places across the U.S., we must continue to support voter empowerment initiatives if we are to prevent Georgia from regressing into a Republican stronghold that capitalizes on voter suppression.
Georgia is emblematic of this country’s deep political divide. On one hand, grassroots organizers like former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams have launched long-term initiatives to combat decades of voter suppression. On the other, politicians like Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp defend antiquated policies that consistently disenfranchise African American voters. Although Georgia went blue for the first time since 1992 due to record turnout of minority voters, voter suppression continues to plague the state.
During the 1960s, the Republican Party developed the “Southern Strategy” to appeal to white voters who disavowed the Democratic Party’s favoring of civil rights laws. Over time, most Southern states became Republican strongholds that relied on currying favor of conservative and moderate whites at the expense of minority voters. As recently as 2018, Georgian election officials purged an estimated 107,000 voters — predominantly African American and other minorities — from the state’s voter rolls. African Americans have traditionally supported the Democratic Party, making them a prime target for Republican voter suppression in the South.
Democrats have labored to transform Georgia’s corrupt political system. Initiatives such as the New Georgia Project helped mobilize and register African American voters and other historically marginalized groups. These voters — specifically Black, Latinx, Indigenous and Asian women — turned Georgia blue this presidential election.
Other Southern states, in comparison, successfully consolidated the Republican Party’s power by stripping minorities of their vote. For example, Florida requires convicted felons to pay all court fines before their right to vote is legally restored, equating to a poll tax that the Republican legislature proposed and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law after nearly two-thirds of Floridian voters approved an amendment to the state constitution in 2018 that reenfranchised felons. In Alabama, a stringent 2011 voter ID law combined with the closing of numerous Department of Motor Vehicles in majority-Black counties disenfranchised many. The closures were so unpopular that Robert Bentley, then Alabama’s governor, reversed the decision just a month after it was made. Georgia Republicans have blatantly attempted to suppress likely Democratic votes in the past decade, but in 2020, the will of the people overcame the whims of partisanship – a sign of the political change that has been brewing in the South finally coming to fruition.
As the epicenter of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and a site for mass protests against police brutality this summer, Atlanta has always been at the forefront, fighting for minority rights. This year, its voters lived up to that legacy, with Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb and DeKalb counties recording the highest turnouts for overall total votes, with a majority being absentee ballots. These specific counties are also known for large minority populations as well as an increasingly Democratic political alignment. Without the empowerment and mobilization of minority communities, Georgia will revert back to being red in the next election. We cannot let Georgia regress.
We must not content ourselves with celebrating Georgia’s star turn in the 2020 presidential election. Instead, we must look to the upcoming runoff elections that will decide control of the U.S. Senate. Register to vote in Georgia if you have not already, and request absentee ballots if you’ll be out of the state on election day. Continue to support efforts to expand the electorate and organizations like Fair Fight and the New Georgia Project, and spread the promise of democracy to the many who for too long have been silenced at the ballot box.
If anything, this election has proven that politics are always in flux: success today does not guarantee victory tomorrow. We celebrated a momentary victory in Georgia, but we must continue fighting as we look forward to the Senate elections. Voter roll purges, strict voter ID laws and disenfranchisement of incarcerated individuals has deprived minorities of the right to vote. Let’s work to change that.
The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. The Editorial Board is composed of Sahar Al-Gazzali, Brammhi Balarajan, Viviana Barreto, Rachel Broun, Kemal Budak, Jake Busch, Sara Khan, Demetrios Mammas, Meredith McKelvey, Sara Perez, Ben Thomas, Leah Woldai and Lynnea Zhang.