As Georgia’s red heart turns blue, here are three takeaways from a long Election Week
Georgia was thrust into the national spotlight as a battleground state with a razor-thin margin between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, with 49.27 percent and 49.49 percent respectively.
Normally, this would give people pause. We know Georgia’s rich red state history: No Democrat presidential candidate has won Georgia since 1992, and the state hasn’t had a democrat as a governor since 2003. The state’s elections are largely led by Republicans, including Gov. Brian Kemp who previously served as secretary of state.
But recent trends have changed with metro Atlanta’s northern arch slowly but surely turning blue. A key indicator is Lucy McBath beating Karen Handel for the second time in the GA-6 House race; The district includes east Cobb County, north Fulton County, and Dunwoody in DeKalb County. Similarly, Carolyn Bordeaux won the GA-7 congressional race, which had been held by Republicans since 1995. The district covers Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, the latter famously known for long held racial agitation toward Black people.
Georgia could also have two Democrat U.S. senators as Kelly Loeffler (R) and Raphael Warnock (D) head into a runoff election; David Perdue (R) and Jon Ossoff (D) will also head to a runoff. Early voting in the Jan. 5 runoff races begins Dec. 14.
And while a recount in the presidential race in the state is possible, in the middle of it all we’re seeing democracy at work. Many have credited Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight and other grassroots organizations, largely led by Black women, for turning Georgia a shade of blue by ensuring voter suppression tactics weren’t as effective as they have been in the past.
But there are other things at play, such as the likely role John Lewis’ fifth congressional district – soon to be helmed by Nikema Williams – played in voter turnout. Here are some takeaways from this election week:
People are learning more about democracy
If there’s anything 2020 has taught us, it’s that every unpredictable outcome is actually possible – including a global pandemic which led to a heavy emphasis on absentee ballot voting. The tedious task of counting those ballots has led to a more intricate understanding of how democracy works, particularly how they are counted and what the next steps are.
Residents and news media are also allowed to watch the ballot counting process and are learning the ins and outs of Georgia and the national election process.
Reinforcing that idea is the record number of early voting and absentee ballots cast in Georgia. According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, nearly 4 million people voted early. There were also increased efforts on the part of counties to ensure voters had a safe and swift election process.
A Tale of Two Johns
In Georgia, it comes down to Fulton County. In Arizona, it comes down to Maricopa County. Politically, the two counties are practically opposites, but they are home to fiercely loyal constituents. For Fulton, it’s the late Congressman John Lewis; In Maricopa, it’s the late Sen. John McCain.
The two men – one a decorated war hero and the other a civil rights champion – have seen their fair share of attacks from President Donald Trump.
The loss in Georgia for Trump is poetic justice for Lewis for a number of reasons. In 2017, Trump said Lewis’ district was “in horrible shape” and “crime infested” leading to a resounding rebuke from Atlanta residents. Second, Lewis’ track record as a proponent of voting rights was his last rally cry for Americans.
“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble,” Lewis wrote in the New York Times this past summer. “Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it…Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe.”
The Associated Press has called the race in Arizona but not Georgia, but it’s clear for some residents their vote was likely a vote for their two Johns.
Stacey Abrams won in the end
The gubernatorial race of 2018 will always haunt Georgians who wonder what life for them would be like if Stacey Abrams won the race. It was during that race where Abrams highlighted voter suppression tactics statewide.
That same year, Abrams’ organization, Fair Fight, filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court against Georgia’s Secretary of State’s Office and the state’s elections board alleging gross mismanagement of the 2018 election led to discouraged and disenfranchised voters.
Undoubtedly, Abrams will be a strong voice in helping Georgia become a Blue state. “As we continue to make sure every vote is counted and every voice is heard, our work is not done,” Abrams said in a video Friday afternoon before pivoting to the upcoming Senate runoff elections.
It is important to note Abrams isn’t doing this work alone. Since 2014, Atlanta-based initiative The New Georgia Project has worked to register more than a half-million Georgians. Black Voters Matter, led by voter registration drives and like Fair Fight is involved in policy changes. And like Fair Fight, it too was created out of concern for voter suppression tactics.
Given that these organizations are led by Black women, it’s clear the ballots cast were also a vote for Abrams and other Black women who’ve led the effort to ensure all votes are counted.