The odometer on voting rights activist Fenika Miller’s 2014 Ford Fusion has racked up nearly 300,000 miles. Most of those miles have been added since March when Miller’s organization launched an all-out blitzkrieg of sorts against Georgia’s controversial new election reform law.
As senior state coordinator for Black Voters Matter, Miller runs the organization’s operation from middle Georgia. Black Voters Matter works with more than 130 churches, nonprofit organizations, individuals and activist groups in 75 counties — 85 percent of which is in rural Georgia, Miller said.
“Because most of the work Black Voters Matter does is outside of the metro Atlanta region,” Miller told Atlanta Civic Circle before heading out on a two-hour drive to participate in a 63-mile march the next day.
“Voting rights is our job now,” the 33-year social justice veteran said.
With more than 1,600 statewide municipal elections set for November, grassroots and voting rights groups are ramping up already supercharged voter education and registration efforts that began well before Gov. Brian Kemp signed SB 202 into law in March.
SB 202 became the Georgia Election Integrity Act of 2021. Intended to restore confidence in the election process, the election reform law is seen by many voting rights experts as another way to make it hard for people to vote, especially communities of color, the elderly and those who live in remote rural areas.
The efforts include an arsenal of toll-free numbers, the help of high-powered voting rights attorneys, webinars and workshops, training sessions, telephone bank campaigns, concerts and more.
That begs the question — how serious has the effort become?
Black Voters Matter launched a 26-city tour Monday taking on such issues as environmental and utility justice. The tour goes through Sept. 26. The nonprofit also spent last week training 75 grassroots organizers and activists on the changes in Georgia’s new law such as the criminalization of groups handing out food and water to voters in line. The group has created vote centers or hubs statewide where voter education posters will be printed out and distributed to barbershops, salons and other businesses. People can also register to vote and request absentee ballot applications at the centers.
“Those voters can take them right from that spot where they requested them and go and put them in the mail, “Miller said.
New Georgia Project plans to register 1,500 Georgians on September 28, National Voter Registration Day. The nonprofit also is targeting the youth vote at pop-up events, concerts and other venues with “Certified Registered Voter” — a play on Rapper Drake’s “Certified Lover Boy” album. The group is offering rides to the polls in rural areas. NGP CEO Nse Ufot told Atlanta Civic Circle the group is targeting 160 city council and mayoral races across the state this election cycle.
“We have about 130 people out everyday across the state,” Keron Blair, NGP’s chief organizing and field officer, told Atlanta Civic Circle.
The Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda has created a series of voter education videos set for release next week on its website and YouTube. The videos will cover the changes voters face under Georgia’s new election reform law.
“We’re going to… let them know that they have to provide ID to request an absentee ballot and that only certain people are allowed to help them with the absentee ballot and return it for them,” Executive Director Helen Butler told Atlanta Civic Circle. The group plans to go to events after Oct. 4 — voter registration deadline — with portable copiers so voters can copy documents they need to apply for absentee ballots. Some people could end up not voting without such help, Butler said.
“It can turn some people away because you’ve got to go that extra step to get it done,” she said.
The efforts also extend beyond local elections and educating voters about Georgia’s overhaul of its election process. It’s drawing attention to key pending Congressional legislation that would benefit them. The League of Women Voters of Georgia, for instance, has a campaign on its website urging Georgians to call Congress to urge passage of the John Lewis voting act which would blunt some of the provisions in Georgia’s election reform law.
Despite the additional hurdles, activists say they’re encouraged by what they’ve seen in the last year. They say record voter turnout turned away another Trump term yet it led to an explosion of tougher voting legislation designed to deter voters.
“That means people like us, nonprofits, have to devote more resources to ensure [people] know the process,” Butler said.
NGP’s Blair sees the new law as “both a challenge and an invitation.”
“Georgia now leads the country in terms of voter registration with only 387,000 people remaining unregistered,” Blair said. It’s a sign that people are interested and invested in what happens here in Georgia and across the country.”
Did YOU KNOW
- There are more than 1,600 municipal races in Georgia this November?
- Georgia leads the nation in voter registration?
- 95 percent of eligible voters in Georgia are registered to vote?
- Georgia has only 387,000 people who remain unregistered to vote?