The flipping of Georgia is seismic – it cannot be overstated

Georgia has confirmed there will be a full hand recount of its US election votes after the result in the state remains too close to call.

President-elect Joe Biden leads Donald Trump by about 14,000 votes out of nearly five million votes counted.

Nearly all of the ballots have been processed.

Election officials announced an audit of the result, meaning a full recount is triggered.

“With the margin being so close, it will require a full, by-hand recount in each county,” Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, said at a press conference.

He wants the recount to start by the end of the week and expects it to take up until the certification deadline of 20 November.

The flipping of Georgia would be seismic. It honestly can’t be overstated. To go from red to blue would have seemed like some sort of a crazy dream a few years ago; a few months ago, maybe even a few weeks ago. Not any more.

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The state has consistently been on the side of a Republican presidential candidate for decades.

The last time they voted for a Democratic candidate was in 1992 when Bill Clinton won.

But if the uninformed outside this state thought it was a guaranteed solid red this time round, they haven’t be watching the quiet revolution going on inside Georgia over the past few years.

This is a state where we found huge racial divisions; a chasm of social inequality and massive renewed enthusiasm for voting amongst the black community.

And this about two weeks before polling day.

Atlanta also saw celebrations
Image:Many people took to the streets of Atlanta when Joe Biden was announced as the winner of the US election

Atlanta is amongst the richest cities in America, yet has one of the highest crime rates. It’s also the cradle of the country’s civil rights movement.

The place where one of the nation’s most famous sons comes from – and Martin Luther King’s legacy of non-violent civil unrest seeps through everything here.

We saw snaking long lines of mainly black voters in the lead up to election day.

Some had waited 11 hours; others four, three, two hours outside early voting centres to make sure their voices were heard.

And they were utterly determined this time, their voice should be heard loud and clear – and that it should be counted.

The Black Voters Matter campaign was working all hours to rally their community, many of whom, frankly, had lost faith in the voting system. They had teams of young people running up garden paths, sliding voting posters into front door cracks and leaving them on doorsteps.

They were organising convoys of free transport to take the young, elderly, fragile and car-less to cast their vote. They held rallies and poll gatherings. They hit the phones.

Despite the recount, the Democrats of Georgia firmly believe they’ve won the state.

So why and how has Georgia reached this point?

Voters in Georgia campaign for a historic black voter turnout that could turn it into a swing state.
Image:Voters in Georgia campaigned hard for a historic black voter turnout

Several converging factors: first, about a million new voters registered in this 2020 contest, many believed to be young and black.

The state, and Atlanta in particular, has seen a big influx of Black, Hispanic and Latino residents from elsewhere in search of work and although not a monolithic voting block, many tended to be seen as more left-leaning – and the third is an African-American politician called Stacey Abrams.

Ms Abrams was the Democratic candidate for governor in 2018.

She came within a whisker of winning but claimed her victory had been stolen by her Republican rival, Brian Kemp, who was also the person in charge of organising the election.

Then there were multiple complaints about fewer polling stations; confusing ID laws; the disenfranchising of many who were struck from the electoral roll for tiny identity differences such as a missing hyphen, and the malfunctioning of many of the electronic voting machines.

An investigation discovered her suspicions were well founded.

It found 340,000 people had been improperly purged from voter registration rolls without notice; Secretary of State Kemp, a Trump loyalist, had previously blocked 53,000 people from registering to vote due to minor discrepancies such as name spelling or missing initials in the state records.

The vast majority affected (80%) were black and Ms Abrams lost by a margin of just 55,000 votes.

Ms Abrams never conceded but filed several lawsuits and has continued to be a motivating force amongst the black community and a steadfast defender and fighter for transparent democracy.

She set up a Fair Fight campaign last year well ahead of the 2020 presidential contest to raise awareness, instigate civil rights action and mobilise an army of volunteers to take on the rampant voter suppression she believes is going on, not just in Georgia but across the country.

Stacey Abrams
Image:Stacey Abrams doubtless motivated thousands of black voters who didn’t vote in 2016

She is viewed as a woman who took on the system and may just be winning; a black woman who isn’t prepared to be walked over.

She doubtless motivated thousands of black voters who didn’t participate in the 2016 presidential contest to take part this time. Back then, they felt disenchanted and disillusioned but after the 2018 governor’s race, the narrative switched.

Many were convinced if they had participated, maybe it could have made the difference.

There’s no doubt the police killings and the death of George Floyd hit hard in Georgia – and also galvanised the crucial black vote here.

In the lead-up to the presidential election, there were at least two black Americans shot by police in Georgia.

There was an outpouring of rage in the wake of Mr Floyd’s killing in May which spilled out into the streets of several American cities, but also Atlanta which saw an ugly spree of anarchic vandalism and looting of businesses.

It was a tragic sign of just how deep the racial divisions and sense of social injustice is in the city which proudly houses monuments and a museum to Martin Luther King.

This all goes some way to explaining the state’s deep suspicion over the suppression of the black vote.

The long lines of early voters in the past few weeks leading up to election day were seen as part of this by countless people we spoke to who had waited hours.

One of them, Curtis Cheeks, told us: “This is an attempt to discourage us from voting. It won’t work.”

Several hundred polling centres were closed ahead of the mail-in voting which also contributed to the long queues.

Fenika Miller says volunteers go out in groups of two or three because they fear for their safety
Image:Fenika Miller was part of the Black Votes Matter group

But we found the anxiety, the frustration, the doubt was matched by a boundless enthusiasm and hedonistic excitement not seen before in Georgia.

The parties spotted the potential and risk in the final few weeks with Joe Biden drafting in former president Barack Obama to come out on the election stump in Georgia – as well as multiple stops around the state by his running-mate Kamala Harris.

In the final week of voting, Mr Biden launched ads specifically targeting black voters: “Black Lives Matter”, he said, “there, I’m not afraid to say it.”

Now – in a state once viewed as ‘unflippable’, there’s going to be renewed focus on the contest for Georgia’s two Senate seats, which go to run-offs in January.

The Black Votes Matter group was back at work even as the counting began: “We’ve got to register tens of thousands more voters for the Senate run-offs,” said Fenika Miller.

Winning both seats would mean the Democrats control the all-important Senate.

“All roads go through Georgia now,” said Toni Watkins of the New Georgia Project. “And this is just the start of building a new Georgia.

“This didn’t just happen overnight. We’ve been planning and working towards this for years. You can have all the recounts you want. We believe Joe Biden has won Georgia and we’re going to fight damn hard for the Senate seats too.”

People honked their horns and danced in celebration in Atlanta’s Freedom Park as Mr Biden was finally declared the president-elect, and there was a spontaneous outpouring of joy – but also palpable relief.

“Has this all left the country and Georgia horribly divided,” I asked one woman. “Oh god yes,” she replied. “We can’t even talk about these things in our family.”

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‘Why are you so heavily armed?’

Another young woman told us: “I feel like in the last four years I haven’t been able to fly the American flag… without thinking this guy… Now I can fly the American flag and think about my nation, a country which actually has room for me with Kamala Harris, with anybody else.”

But there were chilling moments too. Two sets of supporters faced off against each other outside the State Farm Arena, and amongst them were heavily-armed men and women on both sides.

One standing with the Biden supporters was Vic Brunson, an actor and part-time chauffeur: “I’m carrying this weapon simply to defend myself.

“Not to alarm or intimidate but just to defend myself.”

When I asked him why he felt he needed to defend himself, he replied: “Because of my skin colour mam. A lot of people just don’t like the colour of my skin.”

A line of heavily-armed Trump supporters were quickly shooed past the Biden loyalists as both sides exchanged cat calls.

We put the same questions to them. As I touched one man on his arm to get his attention, saying “excuse me” at the same time, he slightly recoiled and his finger immediately went to the trigger of his weapon, such was his alarm.

“We’re exercising our constitutional rights,” he said.

“Have you not seen them with all their weapons all day?” he asked, pointing to the crowd of Biden supporters.

“We are worried about security.”

The incident was over within a few minutes but illustrated the suspicion on both sides in this, the state with the tightest presidential race of them all.

This election has been all about surprises. Georgia may yet be one of the most significant.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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