Last Saturday, Nov. 7, when Joe Biden began to lead in Georgia, many politicians and celebrities tweeted their gratitude for voting rights activist Stacey Abrams. Biden’s victory in Georgia is in large part due to the work of Abrams, who is credited as playing in instrumental part in registering over 800,000 voters and fighting voter suppression.
Since 1964, Republican candidates have consistently won presidential elections in Georgia — with the exception of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Yet, margins between the Democratic and Republican candidates have been shrinking in recent years. As a result, both Democratic candidate Joe Biden and Republican candidate Donald Trump had a viable chance of winning Georgia. With 16 electoral votes, Georgia is a valuable state to win. According to the Associated Press, the results are currently 49.5% for Biden and 49.2% for Trump.
Abrams served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2011-2017, and she has since worked to fight voter suppression. In 2018, Abrams also ran for Governor of Georgia as the first Black woman major-party gubernatorial nominee in the U.S. but ultimately lost to Republican candidate Brian Kemp by a margin of 1.4%. Following this election, Abrams has claimed that Kemp is not the legitimate governor of Georgia because he won as a result of voter suppression.
Prior to the gubernatorial race, Kemp served as Secretary of State, and part of his role included organizing voter registration. However, after the election, reports showed that Kemp canceled almost 700,000 voter registrations in 2017, eight months after announcing his gubernatorial run. Following her loss, Abrams created the Fair Fight Action nonprofit organization to combat voter suppression in cases such as this. She has also credited Kemp as “‘a galvanizing force for the intensity of [her] efforts.’”
The purpose of Fair Fight PAC is to “promote fair elections in Georgia and around the country, encourage voter participation in elections, and educate voters” through grassroots fundraising and activism. Fair Fight also uses legal action to fight against corruption, such as its 2018 lawsuit against Georgia’s Board of Elections and Secretary of State Office for “challenging the gross mismanagement of the 2018 election that discouraged and disenfranchised voters.” In addition to Fair Fight, Abrams founded the New Georgia Project to increase voter turnout. The New Georgia Project is now led by CEO Nsé Ufot, who has also been given credit for helping turn Georgia blue. In addition to Abrams and Ufot, organizers Tamieka Atkins of ProGeorgia and Deborah Scott of Georgia Stand-Up have been credited with turning the tides of the election by “rallying [voters] around issues like affordable housing, transit equity, economic development and labor unions.”
Beyond these groups’ impact in Georgia, Alicia Garza of the Black Futures Lab, Patrisse Cullors of the Black Lives Matter PAC, LaTosha Brown of Black Voters Matter and grassroots organizers of Unlock Vote WI and Black Leaders Organizing for Communities were credited with flipping states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona. A week after the election, Abrams tweeted, “Winning Georgia was not one person's effort. It took hard work - particularly by women of color - for a decade to organize and mobilize voters,” showing her appreciation for the longstanding work of grassroots organizers. Black grassroots organizers have been going door-to-door to talk to voters and encourage them to make a plan to vote. Brown says, “I think we had a message that we tailored to Black voters… that instead of having a message that was rooted in fear, we had a message that said, ‘You have power, that you are powerful and that you have agency.’”
Fair Fight continued their work in the 2020 election, working to mobilize voters and encourage mail-in and early voting. Part of their campaign included creating what they call “the blueprint for victory in 2020“ by “[writing] a 16-page document filled with data and trends on Democratic voters in the state.” This was beneficial in finding communities and demographics to target in voter outreach programs. Abrams’ strategy for voter mobilization was to “[expand] their coalition to include disengaged voters of color, as opposed to continuing the focus on persuading undecided, moderate, often white voters.” Many of the new voters that showed up to vote in this election were African Americans, primarily women, and 18-29 year-olds. This is partially attributed to Georgia’s shifting demographics and more expansive voter outreach from groups such as Fair Fight and the New Georgia Project.
However, Stacey Abrams’ work isn’t over. Shortly after Georgia turned blue, Abrams tweeted “Georgia, thank you. Together, we have changed the course of our state for the better. But our work is not done. Join me in supporting @ReverendWarnock and @ossoff so we can keep up the fight and win the U.S.” Democrat Senate candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff will be up against Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in Georgia’s runoff races on January 5th.
Georgia is having two runoff elections because none of the candidates won over 50% of votes in the November elections. Georgia and Louisiana are the only states that require a candidate to win a majority (>50%) rather than a plurality in order to win a general election. Republicans currently hold a 50-48 majority in the Senate, which they will lose if both Democratic candidates win the runoffs in Georgia. Having a Democratic Senate would greatly aid Biden’s policy agenda.
The major drawback to the runoff voting system is the loss of momentum since it is months after the presidential election. However, Abrams hopes that the infrastructure already in place will be helpful in future elections. Based on high voter turnout among 18-29 year-olds in the presidential election, the New Georgia Project hopes to continue voter outreach in this younger demographic; they are “already posting memes that advise young people who turn 18 before Dec. 7 that they will be eligible to be part of the youth turnout for the first time.” Furthermore, Ufot plans to target more POC voters, primarily those who’ve never voted. “The biggest swing voters are voters who swing between voting and not voting at all,” says Ufot.
Abrams and Ufot vow to continue their efforts in voter mobilization in future elections throughout the country.
For further information about voter suppression and the role it plays in elections and the importance of voter mobilization, Abrams wrote the book “Our Time is Now” and co-produced the Amazon documentary “All-in: The Fight for Democracy.”
Thumbnail photo "Stacey Abrams 2012" by Kerri Battles is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0