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Minorities outnumber whites in Gwinnett County, but fail to vote in their best interests

5/10/2013, noon
Early voters line up for a 2 to 2 1/2 hour wait to cast their ballots at the Cobb County Board of Elections & Registration office in, Marietta, Ga., on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2008. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal Constitution, Curtis Compton)

The way Penny Poole, a secretary with the United Ebony Society sees it, blacks in Gwinnett should look in the mirror when they wonder why the community lacks political clout.

Few blacks are running for office or are actively campaigning for local candidates. Blacks have been slow to build political alliances across cultures even during a time when minorities in Gwinnett County have become the new majority.

The population scales officially tipped in 2009, Census records show. But minorities have so far squandered opportunities to grab power.

“The only way to say it is that we failed our community,” Poole, a longtime resident in her 50s said of her generation. “We have not come out in droves to vote locally. We can’t get things done. Our children aren’t graduating at the rate they should be. We have no power over who makes decisions or even how power is delegated.”

Getting out the vote has been one of the biggest barriers to changing the face of county politics in Gwinnett. For decades, every person elected to the Gwinnett County Commission, the Gwinnett School Board and the State and Superior Courts in Gwinnett has been white.

At the beginning of the millennium seven in 10 Gwinnett residents was white. Census figures show the county is now 43 percent white; 25 percent black; 20 percent Hispanic; 11 percent Asian; and nearly 1 percent Native American.

About half of Gwinnett County’s population of more than 842,000 residents are registered to vote even though 70 percent are at least 18, voting age, according to Census records and statistics from Georgia’s Secretary of State.

While whites make up about 40 percent of the population in Gwinnett, they represent slightly more than half of all registered voters, according to May 2013 state election data.

Whites are also more likely than blacks, Asians and Hispanics to vote in local races where county commissioners, judges and school board members are elected. Nearly 6 in 10 active voters who cast ballots in 2011 were white.

A little more than half of the 63,000 registered voters who did not vote in 2011 local elections were minorities, election data released by Gwinnett County showed.

Change comes slowly, and in spurts. In November 2012, during the presidential election, minorities in Gwinnett became more politically active.

Voter participation increased by 11 percent for blacks and nearly 20 percent each for Hispanics and Asians over the previous year. Their voting power carried weight.

The combined muscle of Asians and Latinos casting ballots led to the re-election of Rep. Pedro “Pete” Marin (D-Duluth), a candidate sensitive to immigration issues affecting constituents in his largely international district that covers parts of Duluth and Norcross.

“He won by the largest margin than he ever had before,” Bonnie Youn, an immigration attorney with Youn Law Group said.

That victory has been attributed in part to the grassroots mobilization of a Duluth group called Asians for Pete Marin, which helped to get out the vote for him.

“His constituency was more Asian American than Latino American,” Youn said. “What Asian American and Pacific Islanders need to understand is that they can make a difference in politics.”