Why The Black Vote in Georgia Is Different This Time


Over the past few weeks, efforts by Democratic-leaning groups to register and turn out black voters have dominated politics in Georgia.

On Thursday the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that Republicans in the state had released a new radio ad on a black gospel radio station aimed at African American voters. That ad came after Georgia Democrats caught national attention for a mailer connecting the importance to voting to the events in Ferguson, Missouri earlier in the year.

Emphasizing out reach to African American voters is by no means limited to Georgia, but it’s critically important in this election cycle for two reasons: First, there’s been an increasingly heated fight between a Democratic-aligned organization in the state and Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R). Second, the outcome of that fight could have an immediate impact on the super-tight races for governor and U.S. Senate in the state.

The fight is between a group called the New Georgia Project, which is run by Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D), and aims to increase the number of registered voters in the state. The group has targeted minority voters recently, a growing constituency in the state. On Wednesday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution released a new analysis that found that 30 percent of the 5.1 million active voters in the state are black. That, according to the Journal-Constitution, is almost a 67,000-person increase of black voters from 2010. White voters have declined as a portion of the total amount of active voters in the state.

Last month Kemp opened up an investigation into the New Georgia Project after, according to Kemp, getting about 100 complaints alleging voter registration fraud. The problem is that NBC News affiliate 11Alive News obtained records showing there had been only seven complaints filed of that claim.

Earlier this month The New Georgia Project, which is officially nonpartisan, filed a lawsuit with Kemp’s office and the boards of elections in five counties, saying that Kemp had not processed up to 40,000 new applications to vote. Kemp has shot back that the lawsuit and the claims behind it are “frivolous.” Earlier in the week the New Georgia Project settled with DeKalb county and there will be a hearing in Fulton County Superior Court on Friday.

Andra Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory University, said that Democrats increasing minority turnout could boost candidates in both the Senate race between Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican David Perdue and the gubernatorial race between state Sen. Jason Carter (D) and incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal (R).

“If the Democrats are able to have a robust turnout among minority voters. That, along with robust turnout progressive whites, could actually make this extremely competitive,” Gillespie said. But Gillespie cautioned that the move to register more minority voters — who, she said, are probably more likely to vote Democratic than Republican — is less likely to be an immediate return on investment.

“I think this strategy of trying to make sure that you go out and register as many potential Democratic voters as possible was part of a longer term strategy,” Gillespie said. “Looking to 2018, looking to those demographic shifts that would favor Democrats and just making sure that you’re making sure that all those potential voters become actual voters.”

Abrams (pictured), in an interview with TPM, refused to even entertain the idea that Kemp has been motivated by partisanship or possibly preventing Democrats from gaining an advantage in this election cycle. She said, speaking as the leader of the New Georgia Project, that even before the lawsuit her group tried to meet with Kemp and be as transparent as possible about its goals.

“Either party has the opportunity to market to these new voters. These are African American, Latino and Asian voters and the GOP has made a strong push in the state of Georgia — or at least a strong showing — of talking about reaching out to minority voters and the Democratic party has a strong history of reaching out to the same population,” Abrams said.

But, speaking in her role as a top Democrat in the state legislature, Abrams said it’s understandable why some could view resistance by Republicans to registering minorities to vote as based on partisanship.

“Well, as the House Minority Leader, not as the leader of the New Georgia Project, I can tell you that the difficulty the Republican party will consistently have with minority voters is that the rhetoric doesn’t match the reality of their policies,” Abrams said. “You can not claim to believe in economic security but refuse to raise the minimum wage in the state of Georgia.”

Recent polling has strongly suggested the possibility that the Georgia Senate race could go into a runoff between Perdue and Nunn, which would occur on January 6, 2015. It’s not clear that the newly registered voters would make much of a difference there.

Gillespie noted that it’s hard to get minorities to turn out to vote and it’s even harder to do that in a runoff election.

“Turnout in runoff elections is always lower than turnout in the general election,” Gillespie said.

Similarly, University of Georgia political scientist Trey Hood, who monitors demographic shifts, expects that new minority voters will probably have an impact farther down the line than rather than in this election cycle.

“I don’t know that it’s going to make a difference right now, in this election cycle. I’m looking at longer term trends and I think those really could have an impact in the future. Political operatives, elective office holders don’t always have a big picture of things,” Hood said. “They may really believe honestly that this election is going to come down to these 40,000 voter registration forms that are in dispute, most of which would apparently be Democratic voters. If you’re asking me whether the balance of the election is going to come to that, the answer’s ‘no.'”

Hood noted that even when people are registered to vote, that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily come to vote.

“It’s not likely that this is going to translate to a one-to-one vote at the polls,” Hood said.

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