Black Voters Aim to Make Votes Matter in Georgia Runoffs
An attendee wears a "Black Votes Matter" protective mask during a 'Get Out The Vote' campaign event with U.S. Democratic Senate candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in Garden City, Georgia, U.S. (Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg)

Black Voters Aim to Make Votes Matter in Georgia Runoffs

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If the Democratic challengers in Georgia’s two U.S. Senate races pull off victories on Tuesday, it will be in part because of people such as Bill Boles.

After standing in line for more than 30 minutes to vote in November’s general election, Boles, 62, a Black man and a chef at an assisted living facility, returned to his polling place in Atlanta’s suburban Gwinnett County on Dec. 15 -- a day after early voting started -- to cast his votes for the two Democratic candidates, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.

Boles said he was “really eager” to go back to the polls for a second time in two months, because of extensive efforts by Democratic organizations to get people to the polls, and because those efforts have helped potential voters to understand how critical their votes can be. The stakes couldn’t be higher: if Democrats win both races, the party would control the U.S. Senate.

“With all of the diverse transplants from around the country moving to Atlanta, and with the racial tone in America, and with all of the advertisements and emails telling people why it’s important to vote once again, this election season is like the dawning of a new day,” said Boles, a Boston native who moved to Atlanta in 1986.

“Black people use to not vote because we didn’t think it mattered. Black lives didn’t matter, and Black voters didn’t matter. But we want to make sure our vote makes a difference this time.”

About 3 million people voted early in the runoff elections, according to an analysis of data from Georgia’s secretary of state. With Election Day still a few days off, more people had already voted than the total number who did so in the 2014 election that sent David Perdue to the U.S. Senate. Now, the Republican incumbent is in a close battle against Ossoff, and the state’s second incumbent Republican Senator, Kelly Loeffler, is locked in a close race against Warnock.

The current, extended election cycle is Loeffler’s first time facing voters; she was appointed by Georgia’s governor to finish Johnny Isakson’s term when the long-time senator retired due to poor health.

Voting-data analysis suggests that the early voting advantage went to Democrats, extending a pattern seen in the 2020 presidential election.

Black Georgians comprised 34% of the early voters, up from 31% in the general election, according to turnout analysis by Bernard L. Fraga, an associate professor of political science at Emory University. White representation among early voters decreased to 60% from 63%. And of 105,000 people who voted early but didn’t vote at all in the general election, 48% were White, while 41% were Black. In 2019, Black voters made up a third of Georgia’s electorate, according to the Pew Research Center.

“Black voters are punching above their weight in this runoff,” said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.

“If you look at the racial makeup of the early voters and some of the county data, Democratic areas have much larger turnout than the Republican dominated counties. Black voters are more enthusiastic than they were even in November. Republicans have to hope for a big push to the polls on Tuesday,” he said.

Representatives for the campaigns of Loeffler and Perdue at the state Republican Party didn’t respond to requests for comment. In separate appearances Sunday on Fox News, Loeffler said that “Georgians are fired up to vote,” while Perdue vowed that to get the vote out on Tuesday as “the last line of defense.”

Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s political star and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate, has again played a powerful role in getting voters to the polls.

In recent weeks, Abrams has spoken frequently -- virtually and at live, socially distanced events -- to grassroots voters’ organizations and volunteers. She’s narrated and appeared in advertisements, and she’s used social media and emails to encourage people to vote in the runoff.

As the architect of organizations that have registered more than 800,000 new voters in recent years, Abrams has cultivated a ubiquitous national presence, including three appearances Sunday on political talk shows, and has become the face of get-out-the-vote efforts in the state.

On ABC’s “This Week,” she said she expected Tuesday to be a high turnout day for Republicans, “so we need Democrats who haven’t cast their ballots to turn out.” Asked about the party affiliation of new voters registered since early November, Abrams said: “We’re very certain that most of those are Democrats, given the composition based on race and age.”

Abrams has been in such demand that it’s difficult to field “all of the incoming inquiries” for her to speak or make an appearance, said Seth Bringman, a spokesman for Fair Fight, an organization founded by Abrams to pursue low-propensity minorities and young voters, with voter registration drives and turnout efforts.

The New Georgia Project, a non-partisan organization focused on registering voters from underrepresented communities and also founded by Abrams, said the number of text messages it sent and doors that were knocked on for the runoff were both nearly triple the amounts in the November general election.

Calls and Texts

The organization said that in recent weeks, some 1,500 volunteers had worked to urge people to vote, knocking on 1.3 million doors, making 3.3 million telephone calls and sending 2.8 million text messages.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Georgia said that since Dec. 26, its volunteers have attempted to contact 2.2 million voters, and knocked on doors in more than 100 counties across Georgia -- a departure from the run-up to the November vote when concerns about Covid-19 limited those efforts.

“It’s the door knocking that’s really different,” said Maggie Chambers, spokesperson for the party. “We did not do that in the general election.”

Boles said he understands how critical it is to get people to the polls for this special election, but nevertheless he, like so many Georgians, looks forward to Tuesday night, “when the knocking on the door, the emails, text messages and television advertisements” will all end.

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