Flipping these Senate seats will also send a strong signal to the state of Georgia that white supremacists can pass all of the voter suppression laws they want, but they will not out-vote us.
The role of racism in the development of this country’s national and state political systems is essential to understanding the stakes involved in the two run-off US Senate races taking place in Georgia.
As this last election season showed us, many, including the current president, don’t understand the electoral process. In 1804, the framers of the US Constitution developed the Electoral College to make sure that Southern slave-owning states would not be overpowered by more populous Northern states in the future.
But while the Electoral College does decide who ends up in the White House, states can determine their voting laws without oversight—an alarming power that was put in check by the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and later eviscerated by the Supreme Court in 2013.
In Shelby County v. Holder, the Court struck down a key provision in the Voting Rights Act requiring states to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department before changing voting laws, which was originally put in place to protect the voting rights of minorities.
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Within hours of the controversial ruling, North Carolina began institutionalizing and enforcing voter suppression laws. Texas and Georgia followed suit by making it more difficult for Black and brown people to vote by closing precincts, shortening the days of early voting, and requiring an exact match address verification.
In Georgia, elections officials took to removing people who “didn’t vote in enough elections” from voter registration rolls—which, unsurprisingly, had dire consequences. Under the leadership of then Secretary of State Brian Kemp, millions of voters were purged from the rolls.
In July 2017, for example, Kemp’s office removed 560,000 Georgians in one day. Just four months earlier, he had announced his candidacy for governor, and continued serving as secretary of state during his contested race against Democrat Stacey Abrams. One could argue Kemp’s office purged enough voters before and during the race to ensure a victory for himself.
Georgia’s run-off election system is also based on a foundation of racism. After the state’s initial electoral college system—which privileged rural voters over Black voters—was found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1962, the run-off system was put in place by staunch Macon segregationist Denmark Groover. The goal was to suppress Black political power and make it harder for the preferred candidates of Black voters to win.
Groover—who had helped lead a successful effort to incorporate the Confederate battle flag onto the Georgia state flag—felt he had lost a 1958 Georgia State House election because of the Black “voting bloc” and wanted to diminish the growing influence of Black voters. When elected again in 1962, he led the fight to enact a majority vote runoff rule for all county and state contests in both primary and general elections to quell growing statewide influence of Black voters.
Georgia and other states have used the holes in the Constitution to disenfranchise entire groups of people, but namely Black and Latinx people in the South, literally for the entire length of this democracy experiment.
The stakes are high in Georgia. It is essential to fight against the languishing systems of racism in our national and state political system by voting in the run-offs. One of the ways to get rid of the influence of committed racists like Mitch McConnell is to ensure a win for Democratic candidates Jon Osoff and Raphael Warnock. Not only will wins for them keep the state blue, but McConnell will no longer be the majority leader of the Senate, clearing the way for progressive legislation and ending the gridlock.
Flipping these Senate seats will also send a strong signal to the state of Georgia that white supremacists can pass all of the voter suppression laws they want, but they will not out-vote us. As the late, great Congressman John Lewis once said: “The vote is precious. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society, and we must use it.”
For those outside of Georgia, it is imperative you do whatever you can to help win these races, whether it’s working with Get Out the Vote organizations or making direct contributions to the campaigns. The outcomes of these races will either send a strong signal that the “last gasp of White Supremacy” is truly in sight for a more progressive America, or our racist foundations are here to stay.