Joe Biden has become the first Democrat to win Georgia since 1992, pulling together a diverse coalition of young voters, suburban voters, and voters of color who together represent the state’s rapidly changing demographics.
The close win in Georgia came just about a week after Biden won enough states to win the presidential race and become president-elect. He has 306 electoral votes to 232 for President Donald Trump, the same margin Trump won by in 2016.
The race is close enough in Georgia to allow for a hand recount, which is now underway. But the margin for Biden is large enough that it is very unlikely for his victory to be reversed.
In Georgia and throughout the South and Southwest, Democrats have been working for years to translate the states’ diversifying electorates into a new path to 270 votes in the Electoral College. The win in Georgia is the culmination of years of groundwork to get as many of the state’s new voters to the polls as possible.
But the battle for Georgia was hard fought and Biden’s victory narrow. Early results had Trump far ahead, as votes from rural Georgia poured in. But Biden pulled into the lead after a wave of absentee ballots from Atlanta and its suburbs were added to the tally. Still, Georgia will have two Senate runoff elections in January. Those contests will decide which party has control of the chamber.
Biden’s breakthrough victory came despite what voting rights advocates saw as a long and focused effort by state Republicans to suppress votes.
“We're talking about voter ID laws,” said Nsé Ufot, the executive director of the New Georgia Project, which says it registered half a million new Black voters across Georgia between 2014 and 2019. “We're talking about the purging of almost 2 million voters under our then–secretary of state, now-governor Brian Kemp's watch. We're talking about the closing of almost 10% of our polling locations. We're talking about extraordinary [hourslong] lines in the polls. We're talking about a signature-match program that’s allowing the state to invalidate your entire ballot. … Collectively, these things make up a very sophisticated and effective voter suppression scheme.”
Georgia has been at the forefront of conversations about access to the ballot and voter suppression since the 2018 gubernatorial election, which pitted Stacey Abrams, a staunch voting rights advocate, against Kemp, who was then the secretary of state. Kemp’s office had put forth many of the changes that his opponent argued limited the power of voters of color. Abrams lost that race by less than 2 percentage points. In the wake of her narrow defeat, she launched the voting rights organization Fair Fight Action that has been challenging the state over voting restrictions. Georgia voters were faced with problems again this year as people faced hourslong lines at the polls and lawyers filed nearly two dozen lawsuits over Georgia’s election procedures.
“Every year after the Republicans took over the legislature in 2004, there was a new or multiple new pieces of legislation to make it more difficult to vote,” Vincent Fort, a former Democratic state senator who represented parts of Atlanta, told BuzzFeed News. “The bottom line is Republicans are losing the demographic game. They know that the only way they can win, because they're not going to try to diversify their party, is to suppress votes.”
Even with all the accusations of voter suppression, Georgia’s voter rolls looked a lot different heading into the 2020 election than they did in 2016. The percentage of registered voters who are white fell from 62% to 59% in the last four years, and nearly a third of voters of the state’s voters are now under 35 years old.
For her part, Ufot is already looking beyond this election.
“These demographic shifts are real,” she said. “By 2025, white people are going to be a minority in this state. And what we have to start asking ourselves is, what does that mean for our politics? What does that mean for our public policy?”