Georgia’s Senate runoff race offers important lessons for political campaigns around the country on old school, grassroots organizing of voters. Democrats flipped two seats in the historically red state, upending a Republican stronghold and practically ensuring President-elect Joe Biden an easier ride as president. So badly was the status quo thrown off-kilter that Republican lawmakers are already talking about trying to restrict absentee voting, as mail-in voting helped to mobilize throngs of new voters.
We know the state is no stranger to such voter suppression tactics. The runoff system itself, held when no candidate gets a majority of the vote, was created in the 1960s to dilute the Black vote and give white candidates an edge. But it didn’t work this time around.
Thank Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s former House minority leader, and the dozens of churches and other community and activist groups that held massive registration drives and rallied people to the polls. Abrams kept her word not to go away quietly after losing a 2018 gubernatorial bid because of what she called outright voter suppression, including the purge of voter rolls and denial of new registrations. She started the voter organization Fair Fight, and Republicans soon didn’t know what hit them. What do they say about a scorned woman? She comes back with a vengeance and turns a red state blue — at least in the U.S. Senate.
Abrams and other already entrenched groups, such as Black Voters Matter, canvassed the state searching for unregistered voters, including large swathes of people who had never registered, or those who might have been on the voter rolls, but didn’t participate in the process all that often. In the age of social media, when Facebook and Instagram pages fill up with political ads during election season, activists used more traditional methods, like door hangers, and focused on issues to engage potential voters, such as systemic racism. They made people see how government could be meaningful to them.
The result: a record breaking 4.5 million people voted in the runoff elections and Black voters led the way in solidifying a Democratic victory. We’re all better off because of it, too. With Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in the Senate, it will end the Republican majority, the tyrannic reign of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the political gridlock that made it hard to get anything done. The country will, we hope, get a meaningful stimulus plan that will help people through the financial hardships caused by COVID-19. Reams of legislation that passed in the House, only to stall in the Senate, may finally see life. We hope desperately that it also means the country can began to restore faith in our democracy.
Baltimore ought to take some tips from Georgia’s playbook on engaging an electorate. People often complain about the status quo, saying it’s time for new blood and that certain candidates, say former Mayor Sheila Dixon, have their core group of supporters, and it’s hard to break the voting cliques. That may be true sometimes. (Though newly elected Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott appears to have attracted a diverse group of voters in the last election). Maybe the answer, then, is for political campaigns to step up their ground games and mobilizing efforts and do a better job of reaching new voters and exciting those who have become disengaged. Mail-in voting, which has resulted in increased voter participation by making it easier to cast a ballot, will only help the cause. Yeah, voting is supposed to be a civic duty. But we know too many people who don’t think the political process works for them, and so they stay home. That is the reality whether we like it or not.
The good thing is that Abrams and Georgia have proven that mindset can be changed with a boots to the ground mentality. They reinvigorated an old formula for modern times. So we say congratulations to them. And we can’t wait to see what Abrams plans to do next.
— The Baltimore Sun/ TNS