Each weekday between 10 a.m. and noon, East Point resident Gloria Jenkins calls Georgia’s top three lawmakers to tell them she’s against the package of controversial election reform bills in the legislature.
Jenkins is one of about 50 senior citizens who’ve been calling Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, and Speaker of the House David Ralston regularly for the last two weeks.
“We give them our name, our cities, and our counties and tell them we are opposed to any bill that has any hint of voter suppression and we ask them to please vote against it and discourage any others from pushing them further,” said Jenkins, chair of the Senior Caucus of the Georgia Democratic Party.
“To take away the right to vote or even attempt to is something we really need to fight,” said Jenkins who is in her 70s and once took part in the famed student sit-ins at lunch counters in Greensboro, N.C. “We’ve been there once and we’re not going back. We’re fighting to protect our democracy.”
Jenkins is among thousands of Georgians rallying against legislation they say are attempts to roll back voting rights in Georgia. The growing opposition to the election reform bills comes less than two months after record voter turnout turned Georgia blue, and sent two Democratic senators to Congress for the first time in 30 years.
The presidential election and senate runoff saw significant turnout from communities of color, young people and the elderly who took advantage of absentee voting and dropboxes. Black voters were 20 percent more likely than whites to vote by mail and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were 60 percent more likely than whites to vote by mail, according to Andre Fields, political director for Fair Fight Action.
Those options and others are under threat of being taken away or radically changed under the various bills that have been introduced and creating a stir under the Gold Dome.
Rep. Carolyn Hugley (D-Columbus) said she has never seen such controversy in her 28 years in the legislature.
“From time to time, we have controversial issues in Georgia but this is different,” Hugley told Atlanta Civic Circle. “People are aware of what’s going on and people aren’t going to be silent. There are groups working hard to educate citizens about what’s going on. ACLU. Fair Fight. League of Women Voters. They’re all busy trying to inform people.”
The Republican-sponsored election-reform bills, in effect, would overhaul Georgia’s election process and make it harder for people to vote. Some 90 election-reform bills have been introduced in the legislature. Roughly 50 of them place greater burdens on voters and election workers. They seek to cut voting hours and advance voting days, ban or limit dropboxes, end private grants and donations that help counties run elections. Ending the grants could cost Georgia more than $57 million in the next election cycle as counties are forced to shoulder more election costs, Fields said.
The bills also would require voters to provide more identification and personal information to get absentee ballots. Some of the bills would make it a crime to give voters standing in line a drink or snacks.
“People are concerned and angry about these bills and they want to do something about it,” said Kevin Sinha, an Atlanta community organizer and founder of CivicGeorgia, a collaboration of community organizers and advocates. “People are still energized from the past two elections. What I’m most excited about is seeing young people working past the elections to organize, to work on advocacy efforts surrounding the bills right now.”
One such group, Promote Positivity Movement, is holding an Anti-Voter Suppression Protest on Thursday at The Georgia State Capitol, 206 Washington St., Atlanta from 10 a.m. to noon. In a similar vein, Black Youth Vote Georgia, is slated to have a Virtual Stand With Georgia March on Saturday with other civic and community groups to protest the various bills. Local and national civil rights activists Helen Butler of Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda and National Action Network’s The Rev. Al Sharpton are slated to speak.
Other groups – including Democratic lawmakers – are following suit with town hall meetings, social media actions, call-and-write campaigns and other events.
State lawmakers are seeing the results.
Rep. Rhonda Burnough (D-Clayton) got home last Friday after an exhaustive week of legislative hearings to find 800 emails waiting for her. They were from all over the country and as far away as Canada.
“Most of them were saying don’t pass (HB) 531. Maintain the democracy,” Burnough, one of four Democrats on the 14-member House Special Committee on Election Integrity, told Atlanta Civic Circle. The committee is holding hearings on the omnibus bill.
Burnough and her fellow committee member Rep. Demetrius Douglas (D-Clayton) and other lawmakers held a town hall meeting earlier this week with constituents telling them about the various bills and their possible impact on voters. They urged the three dozen people on the zoom meeting to contact their legislators about the bills.
“They can change all of the laws. At the end of the day you have to go to work, campaign, talk, register people to vote,” said Burnough who also appeared recently on the Rachel Maddow Show to talk about Georgia’s voting bills. “You can’t stand there like the Wizard of Oz and wreak havoc and then think everything’s going to somehow be o.k., like osmosis.”
While politicking continues inside the Gold Dome, people are pushing back statewide.
Says Hugley: “Voting is such a precious right. We want to make sure people understand what’s happening and the effect these bills may have on their rights.”
Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Find details about Thursday’s rally here.
Find details about Saturday’s march here.
Gov. Brian Kemp (404) 656-1776
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (404) 656-5030
Speaker of the House David Ralston (404) 656-5020
The Senior Caucus of the Georgia Democratic Party meets the second Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. via Zoom. For details, call or text Gloria Jenkins, 678 654-6381 or email her here.