How Georgia Went Blue
On November 3, community organizers, progressive groups, and stalwart volunteers who worked and fought tirelessly for nearly two decades created a new Georgia.
The Biden campaign, alongside highly competitive U.S. Senate, suburban House races and state legislative contests, invested in voter outreach and state Democratic party support. These activists and progressive campaigns joined exceptional attorneys to fight voter suppression—the most pernicious of opponents to a blue Georgia.
While some people saw our collective effort to flip Georgia as wasted energy, this powerful combination delivered victory. Together, across the state and at every level of the ballot, we did the work. By meeting voters in their communities and in partnership, we energized and mobilized a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-generational coalition of voters.
But the transformation to the now-Georgia of Democratic presidential victories and competitive Senate races did not happen overnight.
In 2002, Republicans began their march to hegemony with their win of the Governor’s office. Their opponent was a fractured, under-funded Democratic party grappling with how to define its very nature.
It was Georgia’s grassroots organizers—particularly black community leaders—who started to rebuild the party. The Coalition for the People’s Agenda, the Georgia NAACP, and other groups registered voters, engaged communities, and solved urgent problems.
In 2014, I founded The New Georgia Project—now run by Nse Ufot—and put these efforts in hyperdrive. We, alongside other voting rights groups, added hundreds of thousands of Georgians of color to the voter rolls and at the polls. The Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO), the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) and ally groups like Mijente supported the burgeoning Latino population that grew by nearly 100% from 2000 to 2010.
Georgia also boasted one of the fastest growing Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) populations in the nation, a voter engagement opportunity harnessed by groups such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice. Numerous other groups joined the fray, representing domestic workers, returning citizens, rural voters, the LGBTQ+ community, the disabled, and labor rights.
When I ran for governor in 2018, we centered our campaign on communities of color and the marginalized, built a massive voter protection apparatus, and raised more money than any campaign had in the state before.
Our opponents focused on purging registered voters by the hundreds of thousands, closing polling places to the detriment of a potential 85,000 voters, holding hostage 53,000 applications to vote (80% of which were from people of color), and rejecting absentee and provisional ballots at unconscionable rates. This architecture of voter suppression created insurmountable barriers, often exclusively hurting new potential voters of color and young people.
When I did not become governor, these assaults on voting rights did not disappear, they escalated. But importantly, our mission did not recede and the resources did not disappear. Together, Democratic and progressive Georgians focused on the successes revealed in 2018 and redoubled our commitment to dismantling the barriers of voter suppression. We raised even more funds, reengaged allies, and filed new lawsuits to mitigate the suppressive techniques that had been on obvious display in Georgia since 2010.
I founded Fair Fight to energize, engage, and mobilize voters through advocacy and organizing. In partnership with voter defenders in Georgia and across the country, elections changed in 2020.
We held elections officials at the highest levels accountable, and we filed a groundbreaking federal lawsuit to protect the rights of voters. In December 2019, we forced the Secretary of State’s legal team to admit 22,000 errors in his Christmas voter purge. These voters were promptly returned to the rolls.
Legislation and litigation, including lawsuits by the indefatigable Marc Elias, began to chip away at the superstructure of suppression. Consent decrees created cure options for voters who sought to vote by mail. Legislative changes neutered “exact match” and slowed the purges for the time being. Other suits improved voter access and education.
Community investment led to drop boxes in 80% of Georgia counties—a direct rebuke to the weaponization of the U.S. Postal Service. Organizations heralded the best practice of making a plan to vote and then helped Georgians make those plans real.
Because of the efforts of Fair Fight U students at the University of Georgia, the university reversed course and announced it would allow in-person on-campus voting at the school’s basketball arena. The NBA and WNBA joined the fight, urging their followers to practice civic participation, particularly inside the Hawk’s home court at State Farm Arena.
Allied organizations that have been tilling opportunity for years finally saw yield in November. Together, we mitigated the harm of GOP-led suppression and overwhelmed the system with record turnout. Georgia turned blue for the first time in 28 years with 5 million Georgians casting their votes—nearly a million more than in 2016.
This election boasted the most diverse electorate in our state’s history: according to a post-election analysis by TargetSmart, turnout among black voters increased by about 20%; Hispanic voter participation soared by 72%; Asian-American turnout nearly doubled when compared to the 2016 election; and turnout among voters under the age of 30 also increased sharply, growing from about 14% of ballots cast to about 16%.
While the GOP engaged in rampant disinformation to undermine our electoral process, we provided voters with the resources and information needed to cast their vote safely and securely. For many, amid COVID-19, the safest option was voting by mail. In Georgia, 1,320,154 mail-in ballots were returned and accepted in November. By meeting voters where they were, speaking to their values, and investing early and organizing often, we were able to generate a coalition capable of delivering victory for Democrats.
In a tough down-ballot year for Democrats, Georgia was the only state in the country in which Democrats picked up seats in both chambers of our state legislature. In addition to re-electing heavily targeted Lucy McBath, Georgia earned the only Democratic Congressional pickup in the country in which district lines had not changed, with Carolyn Bourdeaux being elected to represent Gwinnett and Forsyth counties. We won district attorney races in some of our largest counties and just elected the first Latina District Attorney in Georgia’s history.
Our U.S. Senate candidates, Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, ran strategic races that proved instrumental to the wins across the ballot, investing millions in turnout efforts. Because of a runoff system originally designed to diffuse the power of black voters, we now have a chance to elect them both on January 5.
Our objective is maintaining the strategy of inclusion and sustaining community investments to activate our voters and win. All the while, we will guard against Republican disinformation on the air and their attempts at stoking voter suppression on the ground.
Republican officials are trying to leverage their power to impede broader access to voting. Their continued malfeasance and incompetence fueled a GOP voter suppression war machine that is now suing to hamper voting in the January runoffs. They also announced plans to rescind no-excuses vote-by-mail and create onerous and dangerous requirements for voters in 2021. These challenges contradict the spoken will of the millions who are now active voters, but we have learned that vigilance is key to victory.
With voter mobilization, effective litigation, national fundraising, undeterred advocacy and the patience of Job, Georgia reached a tipping point in 2020, where our voters, activists, organizations, attorneys and determination toppled decades of voter suppression. We’ve turned Georgia blue–now comes the hard work of staying here.
But, as always, we’ll get it done
Stacey Abrams is a lawyer, voting rights activist, and the founder of Fair Fight.