By Andrea Young | The Augusta Chronicle | September 19, 2020
Every four years the citizens of Georgia have an opportunity to participate in setting the direction of our national leadership. This is the benefit of living in a democracy.
Democracy is not a spectator sport. It requires participation from all of us. Throughout American history, people have put their lives on the line to create a more perfect union and establish the right to vote for women, 18-year-olds and formerly enslaved Black Americans. Nonviolent protest affirming the importance of Black lives is important and protected by the First Amendment. Protest can and does raise our awareness, but ultimately elected officials decide policy and practice.
This year Georgia citizens will determine who represents us in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate – both Senate seats are on this November ballot. We also have an opportunity to evaluate the performance of every member of the Georgia General Assembly.
The General Assembly makes decisions about the funding for education and health across the state. The members of the General Assembly enact many laws and policies that impact our daily lives. For example, Georgia has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the United States. This session, the General Assembly extended Medicaid coverage for childbirth from 2 to 6 months. This bipartisan legislation was laudable and supported by the ACLU of Georgia and Reproductive Justice organizations. However, if the legislature had allowed Georgia to accept expanded Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, many more women would have health insurance coverage and special legislation would have been unnecessary.
We face the usual challenges in voting this year. Georgia is in the red zone for COVID-19, according to the White House Coronavirus Task Force, making it unsafe for many Georgians to be in public spaces. While Georgia has no-excuse absentee voting and every voter may request a mail-in ballot, the U.S. Postal Service is not providing the efficient service we have all taken for granted. Our current economic crisis, resulting from the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic, has increased food insecurity and financial hardship among many of our neighbors.
Together, we can overcome these challenges and ensure that every eligible voter who wants to vote has a genuine opportunity to cast that ballot.
At the ACLU of Georgia, we are working with counties, including Richmond; the Secretary of State’s Office; and legal, business and civic organizations to encourage Georgians to become poll workers – more than 1,000 so far. We are encouraging every county to deploy drop boxes for mail-in ballots so that voters can return ballots safely and securely without having to pay for postage and worry about mail delivery. Richmond County has four drop boxes for citizens to safely return their mail-in ballots. The ACLU of Georgia, All Voting Is Local and other partners are monitoring boards of elections to advocate practices that make voting more accessible.
Georgians have rights and responsibilities. The ACLU of Georgia fights to protect the right to vote for every citizen. Citizens have a responsibility to do their part. Take advantage of newspapers and civic organizations that discuss the policy positions of candidates on the ballot. Prepare to vote the entire ballot – the state and local races, as well as the national races. Download the app provided by the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office or visit the website sos.ga.gov to see a copy of the ballot before you get to the polls.
Start preparing now:
Step 1. Check your registration – you have until Oct. 5 to register or update the address on your registration form.
Step 2. Decide how you will vote – by mail, in-person early or in-person Nov. 3. Early voting starts Oct. 12.
Step 3. Make your plan.
Step 4. Vote.
Georgia citizens must do their part to ensure our vibrant democracy. Make your plan and vote.
The writer is the executive director of the ACLU of Georgia.