Now that Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock is headed back to do his job in Washington, D.C., while Republican Hershel Walker heads God knows where, but likely to his actual home in Texas, can we finally talk about what a shit show these last few months have been?
A shit show of enduring Jim Crow, for one thing. When neither candidate won 50 percent of the vote—but Warnock got oh so close—they were forced into a December 6 runoff, a vestige of structural racism imposed in 1964 to dilute Black voting power as the civil rights movement gathered steam. Local white leaders set up a runoff, a second general election where low-income voters, those working multiple jobs or without access to accurate voting information, might ultimately struggle to show up again.
I guess it was historic that this runoff pitted two Black men against one another this time around. But there was no doubt whom Black voters supported, and it was Warnock.
Oh, and then there was that cheap trick Mr. Rectitude, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger pulled early on, insisting there could be no Saturday of early voting because it fell only a day after the Robert E. Lee Holiday. I’m sorry; did I say that? Republicans renamed it a generic “state holiday” in 2015, but seven years later they were still using it to try to stop Black people from voting. So let’s keep the name.
Existing law seemed complicated, and good lawyers were summoned. The courts did the right thing, and some counties, mainly Democratic ones, used all their discretion to encourage the maximum number of early voting days. The result? Historic early voting in such a short period, with more than 1.8 million Georgians coming out, and most of them Democrats.
“The ground game was much stronger in the runoff,” said longtime Georgia voting rights activist Nsé Ufot.
I’ve already written what the long lines we saw on those early voting days were not: They were not great news of emancipation and voter enthusiasm. They were signs that the decision by Raffensperger and Governor Brian Kemp to support a voter suppression law—after they both crowed, to Donald Trump’s objection, that Georgia’s elections were Grade A in 2020—wasn’t designed to clean up problems, which they both attested didn’t exist, but to create them.
In both the November general and the December runoff, 2021’s SB 202 limited the runoff period from nine weeks to four, cut the absentee ballot time in both elections, eliminated voter registration for the runoff—you had to register the day before the general if you knew that you needed to. It dramatically reduced the number of ballot drop-off points.
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And something I learned on Tuesday: It shifted the runoff polling locations for many voters. At a polling place in Atlanta, a poll worker told MSNBC at about 3 pm that people were showing up at the wrong place, because their polling location had been changed from where they just voted in November—another result of SB 202. The worker said she was turning away two people for every one she was helping to vote.
Poor sad Herschel Walker. Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of Black PAC, said out loud what many voters believe: “That the Republican Party is attempting to impose their version of what a Black leader should be on the Black community.” Walker’s stellar athletic career, his serial mistreatment of women and his own admission that he’s not “too smart” fit white conservative stereotypes of Black men. “When you think about the sort of multiple stereotypes that Herschel Walker represents, that tells you a lot about who Republicans think Black people are and what they think that they will accept in terms of political leadership,” she told The Hill.
This time around, they did not.
But it’s not all good news for blue-evolving Georgia. In the November election, I witnessed a fractured version of the multiracial coalition that prevailed in 2020 and ’21. This time around, things seemed better. Early voting records in Democratic strongholds showed more enthusiasm than in last month’s general election. The local groups that have been the infrastructure of Georgia’s blue renewal, which had complained about disinvestment, were back out in force, with decent funding. A coalition of organizations under the banner of America Votes Georgia collectively knocked nearly 6 million doors since Thursday, November 10. Those groups included BlackPAC, UNITE HERE, New Georgia Action Fund, Asian American Advocacy Fund, Care in Action, GALEO Impact Fund, Mijente/GLAHR, Casa in Action, and many others. There was more attention to issues of language and culture, especially for Latino and AAPI voters, during the runoff as opposed to the general election.
Yet, and it pains me to say this, the multiracial coalition that elected Joe Biden president and sent Warnock and Jon Ossoff to the Senate seems a little frayed. Once Stacey Abrams lost her gubernatorial race to Brian Kemp, she disappeared—and people have feelings about that.
Concerns about the Black men not turning out for Abrams didn’t materialize in November. They supported her and Warnock equally. But there continued to be a lot of attention to Black male voters’ concerns. Which is justified: Black men vote Democratic at roughly the same rate as Black women, but they lag in turnout. Early vote numbers I had access to showed that Black men made up 13.1 percent of early voters, while Black women made up 21.5. We need a lot more analysis of those numbers.
Rightfully, there was a variety of efforts, some good, some not so good, to boost Black male voter turnout. And here I speak for me only—and hey, I’m a white-haired white lady, so ignore me—but it was a little bit shocking when Warnock did an Election Eve rally with rapper Killer Mike, a Bernie Sanders acolyte who’d criticized Abrams and cozied up to Brian Kemp. At one point Mike said he “couldn’t have been more proud of Kemp’s work reaching out to the Black community,” contrasting it with an apparent deficit on Abrams’s end. If you think Black women in Georgia aren’t talking about this, think again. And then again.
It also pained some people that Abrams apparently was never invited to a public Warnock event. Nsé Ufot, who took over from Abrams to run her pathbreaking New Georgia Project—a devoted effort to turn out the New Georgia of Black, Latino, Asian and young voters of all races—says that she personally was told not to host a voter canvass last Sunday, because of concerns about what NGP has come to represent. (Never mind that Ufot left the group earlier this fall, and Warnock chaired it only a few years ago.) Conservatives have thrown garbage at NGP since Abrams founded it in 2014, and it has never been proven true. Yet it has left a mark, even among allies.
Ufot laments it. “We were bold and ambitious and dared to think that Georgia could be flipped [blue]…and we were right!”
But hey, Raphael Warnock is headed back to the Senate, and his overall strategy, of playing up his bipartisan work for farmers, veterans, and military families, apparently carried the day. He did spend his last days in his Atlanta stronghold, counting on the multiracial, heavily black Democratic base to carry him to victory. But that stronghold creates giants. I don’t imagine the late Representative John Lewis imagining anything different.
Still, the fracturing of the infrastructure that Stacey Abrams and so many allies built, if it’s not repaired, will matter in coming years. Joe Biden—or a substitute Democrat—will be on the Georgia ballot in 2024. Warnock and Ossoff will not be. Nor will John Lewis. We’re going to have to think about this again very soon.