Georgia State student: Why does Georgia make voting so hard?

Students march to the polling site on Emory University’s campus during a Vote Early Day party on Oct. 28, 2022. (Steve Schaefer/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Students march to the polling site on Emory University’s campus during a Vote Early Day party on Oct. 28, 2022. (Steve Schaefer/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Sa’Real McRae, 18, is a first-time voter in Georgia.

A Georgia State University freshman from Covington, McRae is a canvasser with the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition. She drove home to vote last week, but says in a guest column that Georgia has put too many obstacles in the way of young voters.

However, McRae says, she and her determined peers are doing their best to be heard despite attempts to restrain their participation.

By Sa’Real McRae

When I tell you this runoff election made voting a challenge for many young Georgians, I’m speaking from experience. After driving an hour from my dorm at Georgia State University, I arrived in my hometown of Covington and waited in a sea full of other eager voters. The line slowly inched forward until — after two hours — I finally cast my early voting ballot for the U.S. Senate runoff election.

“First time?” a the poll workers asked with a smile.

“Yes, it is.” I wondered how he could tell!

“Congratulations! We have a first-time voter,” he announced.

The room erupted in applause. My heart filled with joy as a smile spread across my face. All the time and energy I had sacrificed to get to this point had been worth it. The workers who spent all day to make sure my vote could be cast were now celebrating me for putting in all the work to catch a ride, wait in line, and make my voice heard.

Sa’Real McRae

Credit: Contributed

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Credit: Contributed

For someone like me, a Black young voter casting my very first ballot, it felt good to know people were proud of me — they saw how hard it was for me to vote, and they applauded me for my resilience.

As a young voter, I’m part of the voting block that overcame barriers like vote by mail delays, new suppressive voting laws and living on campus without a car to break youth runoff election records this November. Georgia’s youth vote outpaced the national average, making up nearly 13% of our electorate. But the struggle to be represented and heard only got worse with this runoff under Senate Bill 202.

After a record-breaking number of Black voters in the 2020 election, our Republican legislators voted SB 202 into law to quell a rising tide of Black, brown, young, and working-class voters who carried Sen. Raphael Warnock to victory in a 2021 runoff.

We saw this in the general election with fewer drop boxes and a shortened window to request and return your absentee ballot. My friends studying out of state requested their ballot in early October, but many had to fly back home to Georgia to vote on Election Day because their ballot never arrived on time.

The runoff made this worse — when I texted and called my friends to inform them of their voting options, I knew they didn’t have time to request and return their ballot in under a month with mail delays and overwhelmed county election offices.

Our allies in legal fields had to sue to secure Saturday voting, which we knew was absolutely critical for young voters with jobs and college classes — students got to vote on Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving before traveling back to campus. But then, our singular week of early voting coincided directly with final exams.

I had projects, presentations, and tests to take all while finding time to spend hours in line casting one vote. Student voters cast more ballots at all three campus early voting sites in Fulton County than in the general election, but many had to skip class to wait in line — or worse, leave the line to make it to class.

As a Black voter, I know this state law was meant to make voting harder for me. They’re betting they can win by making it too hard for me to cast my ballot as is my right. There’s a word for changing the rules to get ahead — it’s called cheating. In elections, it’s called voter suppression.

But I waited in line because Georgia voters are resilient. If someone tries to stop us, we’ll show up in spite of them because our future is still on that ballot. If it wasn’t, they wouldn’t try to stop us in the first place.

Resilience isn’t a condition of my constitutional right to vote. I don’t have to prove I waited enough hours in enough rain and cold to earn my ballot. We need a Congress and a Georgia General Assembly who will recognize these suppressive, poorly written voting laws are unjust and need to be changed for the better.

But despite these challenges, the tsunami of youth power is undeniable. Young Georgia voters are defying voting trends. I spent my time working with other students to call on student governments, colleges, and county election boards to expand early voting options on college campuses. I recruited dozens of my friends to pass out information on free rides to the polls and voting options to students on my campus. I made sure everyone I knew had what they needed to get to the polls — even though it was frustrating that those in power tried to keep us confused and discouraged.

My generation isn’t the first to carry the torch for a better Georgia, but that brighter future is on the horizon. Voting won’t save us, but when I cast my first ballot last week I know it was the start of a lifetime of demanding the people in power fight for us.

Today we vote, tomorrow we move mountains.