Although the result was close enough to trigger a recount, Biden has managed to swing the state by almost 5% when compared to the Democrat performance in 2016. An arguably unprecedented victory for the Democrats, who have struggled to reclaim the south since the 1960s, Georgia has proven that the Democrats are inspiring a new generation of voters to turn out and make their voice heard. President-elect Biden’s success and support in the south this election stemmed from the multitudinous efforts of grassroot, community-led campaigns. One particular figure who has received extensive praise for her role in voter registration and empowerment is politician and activist Stacey Abrams, former minority leader of Georgia’s House of Representatives and founder of anti-voter suppression organisation Fair Fight Action.
Educated at the University of Texas at Austin and Yale University, Abrams has a highly interdisciplinary background and has fought against injustice all throughout her life. Prior to the 2020 election, she served for ten years in Georgia’s General Assembly, protecting Georgians from tax increases and advocating for criminal justice reform. However, she rose to prominence in 2019 due to her historic gubernatorial campaign where she sought to become the first ever female, black governor of a state. Whilst her run was ultimately unsuccessful, her very presence in the race reflected a new impetus for representation of both women and black people at an executive level. Her relentless dedication to voter registration and criticism of voter suppression in the race raised her profile, a prelude to her similar presence and role in the 2020 general election despite not running for office.
Her progressive politics, diverse background, and sustained efforts in the south led to the Biden campaign vetting her for the role of Vice President. Although she encouraged this consideration, she gracefully congratulated Kamala Harris in a tweet upon the announcement of her candidacy. Biden’s rejection of Abrams was met with some anger from the left, who argued both in favour of Abrams and against Harris, citing Abrams’ more progressive platform and Harris’ contentious role as prosecutor in California as chief reasons to their distaste. However, although she missed out on that office, Abrams proved herself to be instrumental in both Georgia and the 2020 campaign overall. Whilst more high-profile, national figures followed the campaign trail and were highly visible, Abrams was credited with a total commitment to grassroots campaigning and demonstrated the too-often ignored importance of black women in enabling and securing democracy and freedom for all people.
As it became increasingly possible for Georgia to turn blue in the days following the election, praise and gratitude began to pour out for Abrams on social media from both politicians and celebrities. People referenced her efforts to single-handedly register over 800,000 new voters in the run up to the elections as evidence towards her essential and irreplaceable influence in Georgia and beyond. The combined efforts of Abrams and other diligent, grassroots campaigners resulted in what is projected to be the highest turnout in a century and the most cast votes ever. This is not solely due to a general increase in voter engagement and the urgent nature of this election, however, but rather the sustained efforts to increase accessibility to voting and the dismantling of racial and social boundaries that have allowed more Americans to vote than ever before.
Whilst the success of Abrams is paramount, Georgia remains one of the most intrinsically discriminatory states when it comes to voting accessibility. Stemming from centuries of historic racism and oppression, the state, alongside over members of the deep south, have struggled to loosen the chains of disenfranchisement even in present time. It was reported that over 80,000 eligible people were prevented from voting in Georgia alone in the 2018 midterm elections, illustrating the extent of the problem. Although initiatives like Abrams’ Fair Fight are making a pivotal impact on voting rights in the south, it is monumentally difficult to undo and advance centuries of oppression wielded against people of colour and other minority groups. The gravity of Abrams’ presence in the 2020 election surely illustrates, however, a rapidly emerging democratic movement in the US, catalysed by visible figures such as Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez.
Not only has Georgia garnered heightened attention for its anomalous alignment with the Democrats this year, but also for its two Senate races, neither of which produced a candidate with a majority of the vote. Subsequently, both of the state’s seats will be elected under special runoff elections in January. These races have a striking importance as they will dictate which party controls the Senate during the next few years, as neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have achieved a majority during the general election. With two wins, the Democrats would increase their share of America’s upper chamber to 50, allowing for a quasi-majority with Harris who will fulfill her constitutional role of casting tie-break votes. This would remove an obstacle which the Democrats have struggled to overcome for five years – a staunch Republican Senate.
Mobilising voters in Georgia, therefore, is the most crucial and prominent task now facing the party. Abrams has immediately harnessed her social media and activism platforms to broadcast encouragement and to seek donations for the race, posting a video in which she thanks voters for their efforts in the presidential election, whilst not losing sight of what remains at stake. Furthermore, the activist has once again showcased her ability to garner support and build momentum by raising over $3.6 million for this cause in a mere two days. With money being a crucial element in US elections, Abrams contributions and capacity to inspire others will place the Democrats in an excellent position to win the two Senate seats in January, despite the state’s red reputation and the GOP’s strong political base there.
Coming out of last week’s election, the future of Georgia in future elections, much like other unprecedentedly contested states like Texas and Arizona, looks to be far more ambiguous than its past. Now a key battleground state, it is entirely possible that with its growing size, diversity, and access to fair elections and voter representation, the state will remain blue in many political areas. Meanwhile, Abrams will undoubtedly take advantage of the increased recognition and publicity she has received to expand her reach across Georgia and other states, and to inspire the rejection and removal of voter suppression across the country. Whilst her role is presently understated in government, she certainly has the potential to lead nationally in many areas, as well as continue her personal activism and goal to secure fair and free elections across the USA.