Biden told Georgia voters he was up to the task when it came to voting rights. They don’t all feel it.
“It was urgent,” recalls Dozier, a first-time councilman who represents the district, squinting a little behind his sunglasses. « It wasn’t just a zoom chat or a phone call or a conference call. They came in person here where the next generation of black political leaders is thriving and bubbling.
Nine months later, that sense of purpose and desire for reform has been replaced by the reality that it never came and probably won’t. Even Dozier, an administration fan and engaged midterm voter, acknowledges that the White House and Democrats could face a frustrated black electorate in Georgia.
“I think there could have been a better job of connecting the threat to the conversation and the talk about democracy to the vote protection work that needs to happen in the states,” Dozier said. « A lot of the things we wanted him to prioritize weren’t done the way we wanted him done in the time we wanted to get them done. [them in].”
Dozier’s sentiments were echoed in interviews with a dozen black activists and voters at and around where Biden delivered his presidency’s most forceful suffrage speech.
Just weeks before Election Day, some were ready to forgive Democrats for their inaction due to the recent movement and progress on other issues. But others were less charitable.
Attitudes toward the president and his party’s failure to advance legislation to expand federal voting protections could have an outsized impact on turnout in Georgia in particular, supporters say. In polls conducted by HIT Strategies for the SEIU, voting rights landed low for “non-Republican voters” in midterm battleground states. But in Peach State, it landed as one of the “top three issues,” Terrance Woodbury, CEO of HIT Strategies, told POLITICO.
« A lot of that is down to Georgia’s franchise legacy and the legacy of people like [former congressman and civil rights icon] John lewis. But it’s also because they hear a lot about it,” Woodbury added. « These were low propensity focus groups and they can name parts of the legislation. »
Deborah Scott, CEO of civil rights group Georgia STAND-UP, also saw Biden and Harris on that January day. She said her organization has knocked on 200,000 doors this election season, despite doubts about whether the administration will keep its promises to push a federal voting rights bill through Congress. These days, she spends her time trying to engage young black voters midterm, while admitting that Biden’s suffrage loopholes make that job harder.
“We are still not over the voting rights that do not pass. But has the administration done enough to ensure it is passed? I question it,” Scott told POLITICO, during an interview on the Morris Brown College campus, less than a mile from where Biden spoke.
Biden’s defenders argue that it is unfair to hold him responsible for the failures of shifting voting rights and electoral reforms. The current makeup of the Senate made it impossible to pass an overhaul of these laws without changing the House Filibuster Rules, which the President eventually passed. But without votes to reform the filibuster, the administration was forced to focus on voter education. Last month, the administration released a memo from domestic policy adviser Susan Rice that included a “plain language guide” the Justice Department has developed for federal suffrage laws and tips. of the General Services Administration describing federal sites that may be used by nonprofit organizations for nonpartisan purposes. voter registration campaigns.
White House aides also point to the president’s speech last month in Philadelphia when he portrayed his predecessor, Donald Trump, and his GOP allies as dangers to democracy. But while civil rights advocates welcomed the speech, they also argued that the administration had yet to tie its central themes to the right to vote.
“There was a lot of rhetoric. We want to see results,” said Gerald Griggs, an Atlanta-based lawyer and president of the Georgia Chapter of the NAACP, who also attended Biden’s speech in January.
Across Atlanta, similar sentiments emerged in conversations with prospective and engaged voters. With the midterm elections just weeks away, the biggest concern for advocates has been securing enough tangible victories to motivate black voters to return to the polls. Biden, in his January speech, warned Republican senators that trying to limit voting access was tantamount to “Jim Crow 2.0.” Yet without legislative action to accompany his warning, campaigners fear voters will stay home on Election Day.
“Politicians think they should only have to show up during election cycles to make promises. And what the African-American voter tells them is it’s better to do it for three and a half years and not the last six months before an election,” Griggs said.
So far, in the first weeks of early voting in Georgia, more than 600,000 people have already voted, according to the office of Georgia’s secretary of state. That’s twice as many voters casting their ballots on the first day of early voting than in the last midterm elections. But it’s unclear whether that’s a sign of enthusiasm for Democrats or Republicans. These numbers also don’t determine what the final tallies might be.
Supporters say that while black voters continue to be frustrated with the administration and Senate Democrats over the franchise, a recent flurry of executive activity elsewhere has helped appease them. They are particularly pleased that Biden has pardoned thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession and his plan to forgive up to $20,000 in federal student loans. The latter program was suspended Friday by an appeals court, but the two issues disproportionately impact black people.
“We finally have some to take home. We have lower drug prices, decriminalize marijuana, and reduce student debt. It’s something to fight for,” Bryce Berry, the president of the Young Democrats of Georgia, told POLITICO. « When we go knocking on doors, we have something concrete to say to people. »
Ultimately, though, civil rights advocates and leaders in Georgia say they don’t think recent victories over student loans and marijuana-related pardons are an equal exchange for a lack of drug legislation. right to vote. Instead, they view them as a down payment from the administration and they hope it will give the White House some momentum if the election goes well.
« Atmosphere-wise, it feels like we’re winning and [finally] do a lot of good and oh boy, it feels so good,” Dozier said. « Let’s make sure we can do more of this. »