By Tamieka Atkins, Executive Director, ProGeorgia
The recent release of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s biennial report brought welcome news that 95% of Georgia’s voting-eligible population is currently registered to vote. This is a tremendous feat, especially for the state with such a long and sordid history of voter suppression and intimidation.
While reporting largely credits our state’s automatic voter registration (AVR) program for the gains we’ve seen since 2016 when the program was first implemented, it tells an incomplete story about our state’s voter registration success. Grassroots organizers have played a significant role in getting the state to adopt the compulsory registration process and have been extraordinary advocates for voting rights.
For years, organizers and advocates have rallied on the ground, lobbying the state legislature and elected and appointed officials, to draw attention to the importance of making voting easier for Georgians. Only after years of intense indepth research, intense pressure and advocacy, and consequential lawsuits, and just before one of the most consequential presidential elections in recent history, did then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp authorize the revamped AVR process that we benefit from today.
It seems unlikely that state actors, who for nearly two dates allowed motor voter registration to languish, would have authorized this plan were it not for grassroots organizers. One look at the state’s continued attempts at voter suppression shows you that AVR alone is not enough to keep Georgia’s voter registration rates high. In 2017, then-Secretary Kemp oversaw the removal of more than 534,000 voters from the voter rolls just months before he narrowly won the state Governor’s race. As of 2019, more than a quarter million voters have been moved to “inactive” status, making them eligible for removal by 2023. Just last month, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office cancelled more than 101,000 voter registrations.
There is a constant dance Georgia organizers must play to make sure that all who want to vote have a full and fair opportunity to do so. The ever-present reality of voter purging, combined with a looming threat that AVR may not always be an option, means that organizers are working overtime to uphold democracy and make sure that the voices and votes of everyday people are heard.
Recent 2020 Census results reveal that Georgia has become increasingly diverse, with the growth of Black, Hispanic, and Asian communities surging over the past 10 years. As Georgia’s demographics continue to shift, the very people who increasingly comprise critical segments of our society are the same people who are disproportionately targeted by voter suppression.
Georgia’s civic-minded organizers and a broad swath of organizations who work in coalition understand that change happens at the intersection of access, engagement, and representation. Equity and opportunity will only prevail when all people have fair access to the ballot, can rigorously engage on the issues that matter, and have adequate representation to ensure that their voices and votes are manifested in policymaking.
It may be easy to credit a technological process with increasing voter registration in the state. But we cannot and should not shortchange the critical work of organizing and advocacy that takes place here each day. Georgia’s organizers stand on the front lines of civic engagement and voter participation and they – not technology alone – will help shape and safeguard our state’s democracy for generations to come.