Atlanta, GA (May 5, 2020) – With voter registration ending on May 11 and early voting slated to begin on May 18, a dozen voting rights and civic organizations held a Your Vote Matters Georgia Primary Election Virtual Town Hall last night on Facebook live and ZOOM. The event was designed to educate Georgia voters on how to protect their votes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 450 people tuned in to learn about Election Protection and voting-by-mail from representatives of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, ProGeorgia, Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, GALEO, Georgia NAACP, Georgia Advocacy Office, Georgia Votes, All Voting is Local, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, Common Cause GA, League of Women Voters of Georgia, Southern Poverty Law Center, New Georgia Project and Georgia Stand-Up.
“Despite the fear and uncertainty caused by the ongoing spread of the coronavirus, we want people to understand just how important their votes and voices really are,” said Tamieka Atkins, Executive Director of ProGeorgia. “Each year, our partners work hard to ensure that the communities we represent are fully informed about and able to participate in the electoral process — 2020 is no different. We are willing to help in any and every way possible to protect everyone’s right.”
Julie Houk, Managing Counsel for Election Protection in the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law explained that Election Protection helps voters 365 days a year to navigate registration and voting challenges, particularly this year in the face of COVID-19. “We have the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline as well as a suite of other language hotlines available to answer voters’ questions on registration, finding polling sites, and address voting problems. We will also have a field program on the ground in Georgia.” She noted that on June 9 the trained volunteers will be driving by the voting sites to monitor for any problems at the polls.
Helen Butler, Executive Director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, reminded listeners that vote-by-mail is easy, safe and secure, and is not new. However, in the face of COVID-19, it does protect voters from being exposed to the virus. She quoted her organization’s founder, the late Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, saying “voting is a sacred right and a moral obligation.”
Jerry Gonzalez, Executive Director of GALEO, noted that the number of registered Latino voters in Georgia increased by 1900%, from 10,000 in 2003 to more than 200,000 in 2020. And yet, challenges with the citizenship verification process and language accessibility still remain as major barriers to full voting participation by Latinos across the state.
Elevating the voices of young people, Rev. James Woodall, President of the Georgia NAACP, said that young people are literally able to “define what happens in this election” and are “unapologetic in their pursuit of justice, equity, and equality for all people.”
Julie Kegley, Senior Staff Attorney and Program Director for the Georgia Advocacy Office rounded out the discussion representing the concerns of the disability community, noting that accessibility was a leading concern for election participation by the 1 in 4 Americans who are disabled. She noted that in 2016, only 40% of polling locations across the country were accessible. In Georgia, the trend has been towards closing non-accessible polling places entirely rather than choosing alternate voting sites or upfitting certain locations to make them accessible.
The organizations involved in this event will be actively engaged in voter registration and get out the vote efforts over the coming weeks to ensure a representative turn out during the combined primary elections.
Legal professionals and others who want to volunteer with Election Protection can do so by visiting https://866ourvote.org/volunteer/.
The May 4th Virtual Town Hall is available on the Georgia Votes Facebook page.
On May 11, GALEO will host a Spanish-language Virtual Town Hall from 6:00pm – 7:00pm via Facebook Live at facebook.com/GALEO.org.