Democratic Senate nominees Jon Ossoff (L), Raphael Warnock (C) and U.S. President-elect Joe Biden (R) take to the stage during a rally outside Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on Jan. 4, 2021.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images
President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia marked the first time since 1992 that a Democrat has won the state’s presidential race.
Just two months later, Georgian voters made history again in two run-off elections by sending Democrats to the Senate for the first time in two decades. Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, will be the first black Senator from Georgia. Documentary filmmaker Jon Ossoff will be the state’s first Jewish Senator and the youngest Senator in the new Congress.
The strong turnout of black voters and other color voters led to Warnock and Ossoff’s historic victories in Georgia – the culmination of years of efforts to organize and mobilize local voters.
More than 4.4 million ballots have already been counted in the run-off elections, shaking the turnout records for such elections in Georgia. With all votes counted, turnout could reach up to 92% of the general election turnout, according to NBC projections.
“It is less a story of the poor Republican turnout than of the Democratic turnout, especially the black turnout, which is much higher than predicted,” said Bernard Fraga, political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta, who analyzes runoff data Has .
Black voters made up the majority of the victorious Warnock and Ossoff electoral base, Fraga said. Approximately 30% of registered voters in Georgia are black and 92% of black voters supported the Democratic Senate candidates.
Latino and Asian American voters also supported Ossoff and Warnock at rates of 63-64% and 60-61%, respectively. A historic spike in voter turnout in Latin America and Asia resulted in Biden breaking profit margins in the general election and a runoff in the U.S. Senate races in Georgia when no candidate received more than 50% of the vote in November.
The high democratic turnout is due in part to the rigorous voting efforts of the Warnock and Ossoff campaigns, with a particular focus on black, Latin American, and Asian-American communities. The Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign made over 25 million voter contact attempts through door-to-door advertising, phone calls and text messages during the runoff election, according to spokeswoman Maggie Chambers, which reached over a million Georgia voters.
But more grassroots organizations came from dozens of nonprofits and advocacy groups working at full speed, particularly organizations focused on racial and ethnic communities. Their voter mobilization efforts drove historic and pivotal turnout during the runoff elections, but their work began years – and for some more than a decade – before that.
Local black organizers and color organizers have been working for years to register and involve Georgians who have traditionally been underrepresented in the political process, even when they have struggled to secure investment from funders and campaigns.
Best known among this cohort is Stacey Abrams, the former state legislature and gubernatorial candidate who founded the New Georgia Project voter registration group and later founded the electoral organization Fair Fight.
“”[L]We’re celebrating the extraordinary organizers, volunteers, recruiters and tireless groups that haven’t stopped since November, “Abrams said on Twitter on January 5th.” We yelled all over our state. “
Many organizers credit her for bringing the vision of a battlefield in Georgia into the national political spotlight and providing high-level funds to step up voter mobilization efforts.
“She has attached herself to a level of philanthropy that nonprofit leaders like me couldn’t match. So much recognition for her,” said Helen Kim Ho, a longtime Abrams employee and former executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, a non-partisan group Advocacy group Ho founded in 2010.
Ho said it was Abrams’ gubernatorial campaign in 2018 that first focused and “opened the political pegs” of the electoral power of Georgia’s black, Latin American and Asian American communities.
Bianca Keaton is the leader of the Democratic Party in Gwinnett County, a former Conservative stronghold that is now an increasingly diverse majority and minority area, where Warnock and Ossoff have won by more than 20 points. She said she was laughed at by members of her committee when she tried to raise large sums of money for the county party two years ago.
“People didn’t have faith in what we were doing,” said Keaton. “But we stuck further away until we got what we needed. And since we all walked in the faith together, we moved a mountain.”
These grassroots groups take an innovative approach to building political power, focusing on relational and cultural organization while investing in digital infrastructure and technology.
“We start early. We work to build relationships in the communities that will eventually emerge,” said Nse Ufot, executive director of the New Georgia Project. “The work of the community organization, the work of the thematic organization, the work of overcoming years of oppression will not happen after Labor Day.”
The new Georgia project, which focuses on registering people of color and young people to vote, started in 2014. From October 2016 to October 2020, the number of black-registered voters in Georgia rose by approximately 130,000, which equates to more than 25% of newly registered voters, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of state voter registration data. The number of registered voters in Latin America and Asia rose by more than 50% each, making up a rapidly growing proportion of Georgian voters.
Former US Representative and Suffrage activist Stacey Abrams speaks with former US President Barack Obama at a Get Out the Vote rally as he fights for Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Joe Biden on November 2, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Elijah Nouvelage | AFP | Getty Images
According to Ufot, the New Georgia Project knocked on more than 2 million doors between November and January, along with more than 6.7 million phone calls and more than 4 million text messages.
Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said his group includes “music and culture and dance and joy” in their campaigns. The Black Voters Matter Fund toured the state on what is known as “America’s Blackest Bus” ahead of the runoff elections, stopping in areas often overlooked by traditional rally political campaigns.
The Black Voters Matter Fund has local partners in 50 counties across Georgia who work with community groups such as churches, NAACP chapters, neighborhood associations, and historically black Greek letter organizations.
“Our message goes well beyond the elections,” said Albright. “We’re doing this to build power over the long term.”
Maria Theresa Kumar, CEO of voter registration group Voto Latino, said that after the 2016 election, her organization invested in data scientists and technology to target potential voters on social media and digital space, and borrowed commercial marketing tactics to register people to vote . According to Kumar, Voto Latino has registered around 15% of all newly registered voters in Georgia since November.
“So many local organizations are doing the work that has already deprived people of their rights. That’s the model,” said Kumar.
Color community advocacy groups have also worked for years to tackle voter repression and improve language accessibility. Groups such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, the Asian American Advocacy Fund, the Latino Community Fund Georgia, and the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials have focused efforts including multilingual outreach and hotlines to protect voters in the language.
Organizers shared a common message: For Democrats and other political campaigns hoping to replicate the Georgia game book elsewhere in the South and the US, invest in local organization and leadership.
“For those who have the resources to give, find the local people who really do the work,” said Ho. “Give the money there. That’s the best way. It really is.”