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How the New Georgia Project Engages Low-Propensity Voters




In 2013, politician and voting-rights activist Stacey Abrams founded the New Georgia Project(NGP), a nonpartisan effort to register, engage, and build power for Black, Latinx, and young voters.


Since then, the organization has become a model for engaging and mobilizing these groups of voters around the issues that are most important to them. Largely because of the work of the NGP—and other groups organizing in the South—the number of low-propensity voters (that is, voters who do not frequently vote) has dramatically decreased in Georgia.


Georgia has also shifted from being a red state to a more competitive swing state. For instance, on January 5, 2021, the state elected Raphael Warnock, Georgia’s first Black senator, and the first Black Democrat elected to the Senate from a Southern state. That same day, the state elected Jon Ossoff, making him both the first Jewish senator from Georgia and the first millennial senator elected to office.


As the upcoming presidential election approaches, many eyes are on Georgia. It was the only Deep South state that President Biden won in 2020. He narrowly secured this victory after Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, called for a full recount of the state’s over five million ballots. Ultimately, Black Georgians were critical to Biden’s victory in 2020, but as this year’s presidential election approaches, many political analysts note that they see less excitement in that key demographic.


In an interview with NPQ, Kendra Cotton, the current CEO of the NGP, urged political pundits to focus less attention on whether or not there is excitement around elections in Southern states. She noted that often, Southern voters might not be excited about particular political candidates, but they are passionate about the issues that are impacting them.


"Excitement is not what we should be gauging. Excitement is not going to let you know who’s showing up to the polls,” Cotton said.


NGP works throughout the year to engage voters around local issues. Last year alone, the group registered over 50,000 new voters. Cotton noted that the organization has successfully engaged voters because it is intentional about talking withpeople—not at them.

Cotton added that she came into this work because she was dissatisfied with how often even those attempting to engage voters make the political process inaccessible to those most impacted.


“I think a large reason that folks feel like politics is inaccessible is because we make it so. Most of us that work in these spaces speak in this language that is not something that is familiar to a lay individual,” she said.


The South’s Refusal to Be Discounted

That is why the NGP emphasizes meeting people where they are. As Cotton noted, the NGP is specifically working to engage a key voting bloc—Black and Latinx voters between 18 and 35. The NGP has 10 offices across Georgia where organizers can canvas and talk to these voters about the issues that are most important to them. She understands that the political system often leaves them jaded because politicians and those working to shape policies usually don’t speak to their issues. “We want to be their political home,” she said.


NGP has both a 501c3 and a 501c4 arm. The c3 arm of the organization does much of its voter registration and education. The c4 arm conducts nonpartisan advocacy and mobilization work to get people more informed about pressing issues.


“We will impress upon them the importance of elections. If there are issues that they should be aware of where they need to press their state representatives—that’s what we do on the c4 side,” Cotton noted.


When the pandemic began, the organization shifted its strategy to enable more virtual organizing. It also began focusing on 10 issue campaigns. These include Black M.A.M.A.S.(Meaningful Action for Maternal Advocacy and Safety), which focuses on reproductive justice and maternal health disparities. The group also has a campaign focusing on how Black residents of rural Georgia are paying more for their utilities and how this is an environmental justice issue.


“We used each of those campaigns during the pandemic to stay engaged with our voters. We [held] virtual events. We kept them going once the COVID [lockdown] was lifted,” Cotton said.


Although much attention tends to gravitate toward the federal level, particularly during a presidential election year, Cotton shared that when organizers with the NGP talk to voters, they intentionally focus on local policies and laws and their impact on Black and Latinx people within the city.


Noting policies like Senate Bill 63, which, if the governor signs, would severely restrict efforts to combat the cash bail system’s harmful impact, Cotton emphasized how important it is to pay attention to policies on the state and local levels: “That’s where the harm is really being done to Black and Brown folks.”


Still, despite the impact of harmful local policies—and perhaps because of it—Cotton said voters in the South refuse to be discounted.


“We might be living in locales where our state and local governments are hostile actors toward policies that Black and Brown folks feel would make their communities better—make their lives better,” she said. “But that’s not going to beat us into submission. We are resolved to continue to fight for change that we want to see. That’s what we do day in and day out.”

 






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