Politics

Georgians Occupy Secretary of State’s Office To Protest Voter Suppression: ‘Let Us Vote’

CREDIT: Alice Ollstein

ATLANTA, GEORGIA—Cries of “Let us vote! Let us vote!” echoed through the marble halls of Georgia’s state capitol Monday evening as dozens of protesters made their way toward the office of Secretary of State Brian Kemp. With the rest of the crowd waving signs and singing outside, eight activists sat in Kemp’s office and refused to leave until the Secretary of State met with them and explained what happened to the roughly 40,000 voter registrations that have gone missing in the state’s database. Kemp never emerged, and the eight were taken away in handcuffs, charged with disrupting government business.

The action was part of the Moral Mondays movement that has spread across the American south, in which activists have protested state legislatures for acting against the will of the people.

“Nobody here wants to go to jail,” said Tim Franzen, an activist with the American Friends Service Committee. “We’d rather just go home. But we have to do something to answer this egregious act of voter suppression. When 40,000 Georgians show up to vote, they’re going to find their names missing from their polling places. It’s unacceptable.”

On Friday, the advocates asked Fulton County Superior Court Judge Christopher Brasher to force the Secretary of State to process the tens of thousands of missing registrations and add them to the voter rolls. Kemp argued back, and the court appeared to agree, that there was nothing in the law that required him to process the registrations by any particular deadline.

Dr. Francys Johnson, the president of the Georgia NAACP, told the activists occupying the Capitol that to have the uncertainty continue into the early voting period disenfranchises those residents — most of whom are young, low-income people of color who have never voted in their lives. Even if the 40,000 are added to the rolls by Election Day, he said, they may not receive their registration card in time telling them where and how to cast a ballot.

“What the Secretary of State is doing is nothing new for Georgia,” he noted. “It goes back through a long line of efforts to deny some people access to the ballot. Today, the people have had enough. We have caught the Secretary of State with his hands in the cookie jar. Georgia deserves better.”

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CREDIT: Alice Ollstein

Judge Brasher could rule on the fate of the tens of thousands of missing voters at any time, but the activists said that with mere days to go before the election, they couldn’t wait to act.

One of those arrested, fast food worker organizer Joel Solow, told ThinkProgress he was not surprised that “these kinds of shenanigans” are happening so close to an election in a state that only recently has become politically competitive. “They think it’s too late for us to respond, so we have to respond,” he said. “We have to say enough is enough.”

Another arrestee, Lorraine Fantana, echoed the impression that the missing ballots are an intentional move to prevent certain Georgians from voting. “There are white people in this state afraid of losing their power, just like during Reconstruction,” she said. “So we need to fight this backward motion. I hate to think about how many people see what’s going on and say, ‘Well, I’m not going to do any voter registration stuff.’ Or they’re afraid about what will happen to them legally if they do.”

Noting that the current races for the Governor’s mansion and one open Senate seat are neck-and-neck, and that the thousands of missing registrations could tip the balance in those elections, Johnson told ThinkProgress, “We are here to stop an election from being stolen.”