According to a report by the U.S. Census, the state of Georgia shattered records for the percentage of registered voters that participated in an election out of any southern state during the 2022 midterms. 82.0% of registered voters voted in Georgia Midterm elections. A deeper dive into the numbers shows that 60.7% percent of White, non-Hispanic persons voted in the 2022 midterms, 54% of Black or African-Americans voted, 51% of Asian-American and Pacific Islander descent voted and 43.3% of Hispanics (of any race) voted.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp repeatedly told everyone during the fierce debates surrounding Senate Bill 202 that the legislation would make voting easier while making it harder to cheat. This week, the Republicans celebrated the report published by the U.S. Census.
“Georgia is the bellwether state, and because of that Georgia voters play a key role in choosing our nation’s course,” said Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in a statement. “It’s easy to cast your vote in Georgia, and voters have the confidence that their vote will count.”
Raffensperger said Georgia’s 2022 midterm election and runoff established these new milestones:
- All-time turnout records for a midterm election, with more votes cast than any other midterm.
- Record breaking midterm early voting turnout.
- Record breaking absentee by mail votes cast in a midterm.
- More Election Day votes were cast in the 2022 runoff than on Election Day in the 2022 general election than on Election Day in the January 2021 runoff, or on Election Day in 2020.
- Three days of single-day all-time voting records during early voting.
Nationwide, Oregon had the highest percentage of citizens that voted with 70% and Virginia had the lowest percentage of citizens that voted with 38.4%.
While the Georgia Republicans took credit for the findings in the U.S. Census report, many advocacy and civil rights groups fought hard to defeat Senate Bill 202. While continuing to advocate for equitable access to the ballot box in Black and Brown neighborhoods; these numbers were achieved despite Secretary Raffensperger’s attempted efforts to silence the voices through new restrictions that one group describes as “unfair, unwise and unnecessary.”
“A lot of groups, knocking on doors, found ways to navigate the new restrictions and put out a massive effort to bring people of color to the polls, and to resist and overcome those restrictions that were put in place,” said Edward A. Hailes, Jr., General Counsel/Management Director with the Advancement Project, a next-generation multi-racial civil rights organization. “So I can’t say I’m surprised that he’s taking credit and suggesting that the new laws may have been important. But know that that credit belongs to the groups that refuse to be intimidated, and refuse to stay out of the elections because these communities recognize that their voice is important.”
According to a study conducted by Pew Research, Georgia’s eligible voter population grew by 1.9 million from 2010 through 2019, with nearly half of this increase attributed to growth in the state’s Black voting population. Additionally, Black Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are more likely than Black Republicans and Republican leaners to say voting is an extremely or very effective tactic for Black progress (68% vs. 46%).
There is no concrete evidence that voting has been made easier due to Senate Bill 202. Also, the number of early voters that dominated headlines during the 2022 midterms does not inherently suggest that the idea of voter suppression is a fable. Prior to 2020, a majority of people that voted by absentee ballot were not Black. In 2005, Georgia Republicans introduced and passed House Bill 244, a 59-page bill that contained nearly 70 revisions of state election code, including two major changes: adding a photo ID requirement for in-person voting and allowing Georgians to vote by mail without an excuse, and without an ID. No Republican complained.
However, during the throes of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Former President Donald Trump bemoaned the more than 1.3 million absentee ballots cast by Georgians in the November 2020 election. The majority of those voters were Black, Brown or representative of other ethnic minority groups. When former President Trump called Secretary Raffensperger and told him, “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.” That phone call signaled the start of Georgia’s high stakes game of political chess, beginning with heavier restriction and reduction of dropboxes in the state, namely in Georgia’s heavily populated counties.
Organizations like The New Georgia Project have gone out of their way to out-strategize and outflank Georgia Republicans and their watchdogs in order to get hundreds of thousands of people registered to vote. Going into the 2024 Presidential Elections, these strategies will bend and be maleable to the current political climate.
“We’ve already helped close to 30,000 people fill out voter registration cards, and we have a goal of getting to 40,000 and we’re going to hit that again in 2024,” said Keron Blair, the Chief Organizing and Field Officer of New Georgia Project and New Georgia Project Action Fund.
“We will get our people ready. We will register them, we will knock on doors, we will politicize them so that they are prepared to participate meaningfully in the life of our democracy come 2024.”
The tug of war over access to the ballot box and the regulations surrounding voting will continue as Republicans push to preserve their power in Georgia and the southern states.