Despite the cooler temperatures and Georgia’s skyrocketing COVID cases, grassroots organizers have been calling, texting, and knocking voters’ doors around the clock to get out the vote.
Over 3 million voters have cast their ballots in the Georgia Senate runoff elections so far—an impressive turnout given that the early voting period was cut short due to the holidays and fewer polling places were open. What’s more, turnout among Black Georgians has soared. Their votes make up more than 31% of the electorate, up 2% from the early vote total for the presidential election. And nearly 113,000 voters who didn’t vote in the November election showed up for the runoff.
Republicans have reason to worry: Allegations of voter fraud have fractured the party. If Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock best Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler on Jan. 5, the Senate will be split 50-50, with Kamala Harris casting deciding votes as vice president.
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Since the presidential election, Georgia activists and organizers have been refining their ground game for the runoff. Despite the cooler temperatures and the state’s skyrocketing COVID cases, they’ve been calling, texting, and knocking voters’ doors around the clock to get out the vote. COURIER spoke with three out of thousands who are doing this work.
Isabel Hidalgo De Caviedes
Isabel Hidalgo De Caviedes is the regional coordinator for Poder Latinx Georgia, which conducts voter outreach in the Latinx community. As of the end of December, the organization had made over 300,000 phone calls and knocked on 10,000-plus doors for the runoff election.
Prior to the Dec. 5 registration deadline, Poder Latinx focused on voter registration and “voter verification”—assisting folks with checking their voter registration status on the state’s My Voter Page. “Many people don’t realize that when they get a driver’s license in Georgia, they are automatically registered to vote,” Hidalgo De Caviedes explained.
One of the people she recently called was a 25-year-old named Jesse. He told her that he regretfully forgot to register to vote in time for the election. After plugging his information into My Voter Page, he learned he was already registered. “I told Jesse he had a golden ticket, and directed him to his early voting location,” Hidalgo De Caviedes said. After he cast his ballot, Jesse sent her a photo of his voting sticker.
Many of the folks Hidalgo De Caviedes reaches out to are Spanish-speaking Latinx. As the daughter of Cuban exiles born in Mexico, she can relate to their uncertainty about the electoral process. This is why she feels the work she does is so important. “Voting is a right and a privilege that you don’t necessarily feel a part of when you’re a new citizen,” she said. “I give them the information that empowers them so they can be a part of the system.” The same critical issues on the November ballot, she said, are again on the ballot in January. “What is at stake for each Latinx? Immigration reform, free college for our youth, pandemic control and help, livable wage, protection to essential workers, access to healthcare systems, and so much more!”
Through various volunteer endeavors, Feroza Syed has had many roles this election season. Since late summer, she has helped distribute 25,000 postcards to a postcard-writing team through the Georgia Postcard Project, and registered voters through Georgians for Registrations and Increased Turnout (or GRIT), which focuses its efforts on renters at apartment complexes, an oftentimes overlooked demographic.
“Turnover is high, but it’s important to register this influx of folks moving into Georgia,” Syed told COURIER.
Right before the voter registration deadline, while getting ready to set up a registration table on the Atlanta Beltline, she came across what she describes as a “magical unicorn”: a recently turned 18-year-old who was ineligible to vote in the presidential election but eligible to vote in the runoff. Syed registered the voter on the hood of her car.
For the first time this runoff election, through the Democratic Party of Georgia, Syed has also helped “cure” provisional and absentee ballots rejected for minor errors (like missing signatures), so that these votes can be counted. “It’s been a really validating experience,” she said. “Seeing people take the steps to make their votes count has been really amazing.”
Syed became more politically engaged in the months leading up to the 2018 midterm election. “Stacey Abrams’ leadership influenced me to become more politically active,” she said. “She was the first gubernatorial candidate to speak at Pride. Her campaign was inclusive of Black, brown, LGBTQIA+, and immigrants.”
As a trans Muslim daughter of Indian immigrants, Syed felt she had no choice but to get involved in the 2020 presidential election.“Every aspect of my identity is on the ballot,” she said. “Getting a president in office who is not disenfranchising individuals was pretty important.” She believes that flipping the Senate is equally as vital as putting a Democrat in the White House. “In order to reverse some of the actions that Trump has done, we really need caring and empathetic senators and a Senate majority to help the incoming administration make the changes we need. And Georgia deserves better.”
Sabrina Rahim describes herself as a “worker bee.” She is a post seat holder for the DeKalb County Democrats, served as an auditor for DeKalb County’s recount for the presidential election, and is a DeKalb County poll worker. After Donald Trump won in 2016, Rahim and her friends decided they would work hard to make it acceptable to be a Democrat in Dunwoody, a suburb that sits on the northern tip of Atlanta. Their plan worked: In 2018, Dunwoody flipped its state Senate seat, state House seat, and helped elect Lucy McBath to Congress.
She is working around the clock for the runoff, an election she sees as critical as the presidential election. “Biden and Harris have an ambitious legislative agenda that they need to be able to pass in order to beat this pandemic and address the multiple and unprecedented crises we have on our hands.”
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In recent weeks, Rahim and other local activists have stood near Dunwoody public library, an early polling location, where they waved campaign signs. Oftentimes, passersby are supportive. (One recently stopped to give them $40 to buy themselves lunch.)
For the runoff, though, Rahim and her sign-waving cohort have experienced far more vitriol. Recently, she told COURIER, a member of her school’s Parent Teacher Organization—who didn’t recognize Rahim—drove by, red-faced, called Rahim a cheater, and flipped her the bird.
“What we see standing outside while sign-waving is a microcosm of what’s happening culturally and politically in our country,” Rahim said. “We see a lot of people, especially women, subscribe to QAnon conspiracy theories. They’re yelling at us that Hunter Biden needs to go to prison, calling us f-ing socialists, radical liberals.” (The term has been repeatedly used by Loeffler to describe Warnock during the campaign season, including during their one and only debate.) “A lot of the vitriol for the runoff is directed against Rev. Warnock. I’m convinced it’s racism.”
Despite the abuse, Rahim is determined to keep going. “If there’s any path we have toward replacing Mitch McConnell and his legendary obstruction, it’s through these two Senate seats in Georgia,” she said. “Biden and Harris can’t accomplish anything until we flip the Senate, and we need a majority to do this. I feel a great sense of urgency. We can rest after the runoffs are over.”