Georgia’s botched primary this month revealed more than our election problems, it showed us the profound courage of our voters despite those problems. But this is no way to run a democracy. State election officials failed Georgians and neglected their duty to run free and fair elections. Georgia voters like me have one demand to state election officials as November approaches: Do your job.
Georgia has an ugly history of silencing Black and Brown voters at the polls. The seven-hour-long lines, machine breakdowns and polling place closures in predominantly Black communities were devastating but not surprising. They were also avoidable.
For months leading to the primary, our coalition of voting rights advocates urged Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and the State Election Board to swiftly fix widespread ballot processing problems, voting delays and unsafe conditions at polling places amid the threat of COVID-19. They failed us.
The scariest voting conditions I encountered were at Christian City, an assisted living facility in Fulton County, where voters waited up to seven hours to vote. It was frightening not only because assisted living and nursing homes are among the deadliest environments for the virus but also because the fear of infection hit home for me.
All I could think about was a registered nurse at the nursing home with the highest rate of COVID-19 deaths in the state, and she was recently infected with the disease. She is a woman of color, a rural voter and an essential worker. She is my mother.
My mother is the voter whom I’ve dedicated my career to help vote, and it’s been difficult to prioritize election work when she’s been deathly ill. But as I worried about her, she worried about two things: her patients and our democracy. Her dedication to the people she served
compelled her to return to work when she recovered, just as our upcoming election prompted her to show up to cast her ballot during early voting.
At the start of early voting, it was clear our elections were already fraught with problems. Over
50,000 voters hadn’t received their absentee ballots, or they received incorrect ones, and voting machines across our state had technical issues that caused long delays. Nonetheless, my mother was determined to vote because, as she put it: “Nothing will change without my vote.”
I remembered that she showed up for her patients and was determined to show up for our elections. So I was compelled to show up for her. She showed up for change, despite the barriers and fears, like so many voters did at Christian City on Election Day.
At Christian City, voters waited in the rain, heat and humidity, through hunger, thirst, exhaustion, and through anxiety and fear. They waited with children in strollers and toddlers with too much energy to stand still. And then, alarmingly, they waited to vote after the police showed up and asked us to leave.
Voting rights advocates had been supporting voters by providing snacks, water, ponchos and encouragement throughout what would become an over 12-hour-long election day. Georgia’s voting sites opened up at 7 a.m., but after 9 p.m. we found more than 200 voters still waiting to cast their ballots at Christian City.
The police asked us to leave around midnight, when about 75 voters waited to cast their ballots inside. Under the glow and panic of police lights, we refused to leave. We saw nervous eyes watch us from inside, and we stayed even after one police car turned into six. We honored our promise to wait until the last ballot was cast.
It was close to 1 a.m.—officially the day after voting—when the last person voted. She left weary and tired, but victorious because she did what she set out to do—she finally voted.
Courage has been the silent sword that voters have used to dismantle barriers to their ballot. They vote despite obstacles and unfathomable odds. Their bravery gives us hope to show up to vote during the hardest and scariest times ahead of us. Nothing will change without our vote, and Georgia voters will continue to demand change.
Let’s be clear: This is an outrage. This should not be happening in America.
This entire debacle could have been avoided if Secretary of State Raffensperger simply did his job to protect voters and uphold our democracy. He and state officials must fix this for November. We won’t rest until they do.
Aklima Khondoker is the Georgia state director at All Voting is Local, a collaborative campaign housed at the Leadership Conference Education Fund fighting to remove discriminatory barriers to the ballot before Election Day.