Despite Hardship, Black Georgia Voters Determined to Come Out Early to Vote

Georgia closed 214 polling places after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, but that’s apparently not stopping African-Americans from voting early this year.

“It’s my custom to vote early … but Georgia doesn’t have a good reputation where voter rights are concerned,” said Lumbe Davis, a resident of Tucker, Georgia. “Polling locations were greatly reduced in the past few years. Thousands of registered voters were purged from rolls, if they hadn’t voted in recent elections. Ballots were rendered null, if names didn’t match exactly, which is an issue for voters with dual last names, as is the case for Hispanic and Latinx voters. And of course, lines continue to be too long in certain neighborhoods.”

Voters like Davis are particularly suspicious about the state’s long voter lines. The media recorded images of countless queues of socially-distanced voters wrapping around precincts within the last few weeks. Some of the lines even crossed whole blocks, causing bitterness and rage. Some of the longest lines were in metro Atlanta where there is a significant Black voting population. It was also a problem in the June 9 primary, when counties aggravated the process by restricting voting due to coronavirus.

Suspicion is contributing to long lines in some places, with many Black voters eschewing mail-in-voting because they fear it adds an extra level of complication that a nefarious government could exploit. African-Americans’ distrust blew up in 2018 when Republican Gov. Brian Kemp barely defeated Democrat Stacey Abrams in a race plagued by—you guessed it!—long voting lines and voter suppression. Kemp made a point to retain his position as Georgia’s secretary of state, even while running for governor. And he tossed 340,000 voters off rolls, most of them Black. The combination of Kemp’s shady dealings and voting difficulties drove his opponent Abrams to refuse to concede the race.

Reuben Bussey lives in the Atlanta suburb of Riverdale and says he’s also shying away from mail-in voting this year. Instead, he intends to vote early and in-person.

“I just want to make sure my vote actually gets counted,” Bussey said. “I’ll be voting possibly as early as tomorrow (October 19, 2020) depending on the size of the lines.”

University of Florida Political Scientist Dan Smith offered little comfort to concerned Black voters. Smith released a report revealing mail ballots from Black voters in Florida were rejected at a higher percentage than white voters in past elections. Officials rejected only 0.65 percent of vote-by-mail ballots cast by white voters in the 2016 election but dumped 1.86 percent of mail-in ballots from Black voters, and 1.69 percent of Hispanic voter ballots.

“In the 2018 General Election, nearly 240,000 Black voters voted by mail, accounting for roughly 9.0 percent of all VBM (vote by mail) ballots cast, but they accounted for 14.5 percent of all the VBM ballots that were uncounted by county canvassing boards,” the report claims. “Even more dramatically, even though the 356,000 Hispanics who cast absentee ballots in the election comprised 13.4 percent of all VBM ballots cast statewide, Hispanic voters accounted for 22.6 percent of all rejected VBM ballots.”

The Washington Post reports North Carolina election officials have already flagged the ballots of a disproportionate number of Black voters with errors in the 2020 General Election.

Bussey told The Lighthouse he and his wife received multiple applications to vote by mail this year and complained the duplicate mailings are sowing confusion in his household. He frets over what could happen if a senior citizen or somebody unfamiliar with the process winds up sending in every ballot application that comes to their door.

“For some reason, this year I’ve seen more absentee registration forms and whatnot in our mail, and that’s another reason I feel more comfortable voting in person,” Bussey said. “You have to decline or cancel your absentee ballots when you vote in person, and the water starts to get muddy at that point. … I can imagine from the number of ballots that I’ve received somebody’s going to wind up voting more than once.”

When Georgians vote, they’re up against some strict voting laws. According to the Cost of Voting Index, those laws have gotten worse since 2016, particularly because of efforts by Kemp and the Republican Party to limit or discriminate against Black and Democratic voters. Election officials have tried to mitigate the damage by tripling the number of voting machines in Atlanta’s Hawks Arena to 300 machines for the early voting period. But Bussey said the lines in Atlanta are still too long and they do a disservice to Black voters who predominate the area.

“In metro Atlanta proper, you’re talking about 4- or 5 million people and … there’s a number of polling sites that are ridiculous, and we have every reason to believe that they will continue to be underserved as far as polling equipment and polling personnel,” Bussey said. “That puts the vote, which is a heavily democratic, at a disadvantage.”

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who was Kemp’s replacement when he nabbed the governor’s seat, told reporters “… [S]ome precincts are more favored than others by voters and they just have longer lines… (but) everyone will have the opportunity to vote.”

Abrams, who has since gone on to found voting rights organization Fair Fight, called out the secretary of state for his lack of preparation, however.

“As angry as we should be about the injustice and the voter suppression that is on display in Georgia, we should be extraordinarily pleased that people are willing to fight back and to make their voices heard, despite the challenges they face,” Abrams said.

Black Georgians are voting in full force, despite voting restrictions, and the Democratic Party—which African-Americans tend to favor—could reap some rewards for their effort.

Polling organization Fivethirtyeight predicts Georgia to turn blue for the first time in years for the presidential election. This switch and enthusiasm could also hurt Republican incumbents. Kemp, who is already a controversial figure, appointed Sen. Kelly Loffler in 2019, and ever since that time, Loffler has moved to the right and to the corner of Donald Trump while trying to fend off a right-wing primary opponent. She also attacked the Black Lives Matter Movement and made the players on the Atlanta Dream her fiercest critics, essentially pitting her against Atlanta’s flourishing Black population.

If Georgia voters hand a U.S. Senate seat over to the Democrats this year, it will increase the Democratic majority in the Senate and make possible a Medicare expansion and a minimum wage increase, among other things.

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