Early voting efforts got another boost Sunday when Black Voters Matter teamed up with nearly a dozen civic and community organizations to take people to the polls that were open in some metro Atlanta counties.
The parking lot of the IBEW Building on Pulliam Street became the staging ground for the nonpartisan “No Voter Suppression Sunday: Fight Back Freedom Rides” - which included a surprise appearance by comedian and television host Chelsea Handler.
Handler thanked people for coming out and “fighting the good fight. … Your voice is important.”
She reminded those gathered that voting is not a privilege, but a right and “it’s not anyone’s right to take away that right.”
Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said the organization is committed to getting people to the polls and building communities, so even after the election, they will “be in a stronger position.”
He also wants to make it clear, though, “that we won’t tolerate voter suppression.”
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According to a recent analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, county election officials have closed 214 precincts across the state since 2012. Officials say they are saving taxpayer money, but voting rights activists say they are targeting African-American voters.
At 11, student Jamarcus Hill is too young to vote, but that didn’t stop him from attending the rally.
“I just want people to get out to vote,” said Hill. “It matters. You’re voting for the community and everybody in it. You’re voting for the children. You’re voting for the schools and law enforcement.”
Among them was Emma Steed of Riverdale.
“We’re here to represent women. It’s time for us to step up and get things going,” said Steed, who made no secret of whom she would support in the gubernatorial race. Democrat Stacey Abrams is vying to become the nation’s first female African-American governor in her bid against Republican Brian Kemp. Of course, Kemp also has his many supporters - as well as President Donald Trump’s full support - as record numbers of the state’s residents have turned out to take part in early voting these past two weeks.
P. Kelly of Jonesboro, a retired clerk for the U.S. Postal Service, has always voted in presidential and statewide elections.
“If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said. “Your vote speaks.”
Cheryl Greene, a zumba instructor from College Park, couldn’t agree more and wanted her vote to speak volumes.
She makes sure to vote in every midterm election. “They’re even more important,” she said. “These are the people who decide what happens in our communities.”
Helen Butler of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda has worked with voter campaigns for 18 years. She said heartened by the large number of people who are participating in early voting in the midterms in advance of Nov. 6.
“I’m just so happy to see this kind of enthusiasm,” she said. “It’s important to get people engaged in the process.”
Early voting in Georgia has risen dramatically over the years. In 2016, roughly 58 percent of all voters cast their ballots in advance of Election Day, compared to 37 percent in 2014.
As of Thursday, 944,426 people had voted in Georgia – nearly three times as many ballots cast as at the same point in the last midterm elections in 2014.
Atlanta poet and author Hank Stewart used social media to spread the word about the event.
He said the election has re-engaged people to vote and brought in new voters.
“There was so much energy,” he said of Sunday’s voter event.
Multimedia journalist Jenna Eason contributed to this article.
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