Registering Voters…Can't stop, won't stop.

Updated: Nov 3

by Christine White, Executive Director, Georgia Alliance for Progress

August 2021, the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission reported that 95% of Georgia's eligible voters were registered. We celebrate the tireless efforts of our ProGeorgia partners who focus on encouraging folks who otherwise would not engage in the electoral system, to get registered and vote. Still, we know that the 5% of unregistered Georgians, almost 400,000 eligible voters, are worth engaging and are necessary for the effective functioning of our democracy.

Voter registration is often seen as linear, transactional work that results only in registered voters. The truth is, the voter registration work done by ProGeorgia partners is community organizing, and rarely transactional or linear. In communities historically under-resourced by campaigns, under-responded to by elected officials and targeted by voter suppression and voter intimidation tactics, this voter registration is a part of a community organizing

strategy which is relational, cyclical and cumulative.

It is relational in that the goal of the voter communication is not primarily voter registration, it is building trust between the partner organization and the targeted eligible voter. The fact is that much of this communication does not even begin with a conversation about

voting, it begins with a conversation about the health, safety and welfare of the person communicated with, their household and their community. This communication lays the foundation for future conversations about voting, the election process, the roles of elected officials and policies that affect their lives. This work also results in communication to other registered voters in the same household and is an important part of community civic education.

The work is cyclical in that voter registration is not a one-time event for many in our target universe. For the communities serviced by our partners, voter registration is something that must be repeated often because this population, due to lack of options and resources, is often transient (particularly in the time of Covid) and are more likely to be subject to voter record purges. This is also a population that is less likely to be registered automatically through the Department of Motor Vehicles because they are less likely to have drivers licenses.

This work is cumulative because each communication about the electoral process builds on the one before it. A reminder to get registered, or to re-register, is an opportunity to teach about the political process, the different elections and elected positions, the different types of government bodies and the electoral process in general. As our partners check to see if folks are registered, and if others in the household are registered, it is a time to dispel myths and resistance about voting that in many cases is generations old. Many of this hesitance is so

pervasive and self-perpetuating that it creates a culture of voter disengagement and apathy in particular communities. It is imperative that in our effort to change this culture of apathy (that has been created and maintained by an unresponsive and hostile government that is

actively attempting to suppress the vote), we reach out to every member of in these communities and combat their valid feelings of marginalization and invisibility, by letting them known that they are seen, valuable and have a voice worthy of sharing.

Finally, 5% of the 7 million+ eligible voters is still over 300,000 people, many of whom are black, brown and/or poor, but who, as our data shows, are likely to vote with us if they vote.

The work that Georgia Alliance supports is the work of civic engagement as a function of community organizing. This is different from the transactional nature of traditional political campaigns. Community organizing is far more effective at turning out our voters than traditional political campaigning.

The goal of civic engagement as a function of community organizing is to build political/civic power of communities historically excluded from participating in the process, who have historically benefited less from shifts in political power and who have other reasons for not participating in the civic process. While the number of registered voters and the number of votes cast in these communities is one measure of our success, they are not the only measure of success. Finally, traditional political campaigning is not effective at reaching the long term goals of building political power and overcoming the impacts of generations of voter suppression and political exclusion.