Opinion: Working to hear more Ga. voices

November 3, 2020 Atlanta: Voters at the voting machines at Park Tavern in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Voters lined up outside polling places Tuesday morning to be among the first to cast their votes on a crucial Election Day. It’s expected to be the biggest day of voting in Georgia, with turnout reaching as high as 2 million. Another 3.9 million people already cast early or absentee ballots. Some told The Atlanta Journal Constitution that they expect social unrest whether Biden or Trump wins the election. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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November 3, 2020 Atlanta: Voters at the voting machines at Park Tavern in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Voters lined up outside polling places Tuesday morning to be among the first to cast their votes on a crucial Election Day. It’s expected to be the biggest day of voting in Georgia, with turnout reaching as high as 2 million. Another 3.9 million people already cast early or absentee ballots. Some told The Atlanta Journal Constitution that they expect social unrest whether Biden or Trump wins the election. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

My calling to public service was an acknowledgment of both the challenges we face and the blessings we’re afforded as a country, and to be a voice for those who felt like theirs wasn’t being heard. As I met with Georgians across our state, I saw firsthand the importance of amplifying these voices in Washington. Our state is unquestionably greater when everyone’s voice is heard. But for too many, the importance — and even the sanctity — of their vote is seriously in question.

In Georgia, new high-water marks for voter turnout have been set time and again, including in the 2020 general election and 2021 Senate runoffs — in which I was a candidate. But those dynamic environments also hid important, underlying facts. Chief among them is that roughly 500,000 voters who voted in November didn’t vote in the January runoffs. That is on top of an alarming 2.5 million registered voters in Georgia who did not vote in November. We can and must do more to expand voting, broaden our conversations with more communities, and build greater confidence in our electoral process.

That is why I’m investing my time, energy and resources to form Greater Georgia. There is an urgent need to help make every Georgian’s voice heard on issues that matter most to them. While voting is the key to making that happen, it’s much more than that. It’s why we are rolling up our sleeves to register and engage more voters, communicate continuously with diverse communities, and strengthen election transparency and uniformity. Elections at every level of government have consequences, and in a short time, we’ve already seen the impact of the most recent elections on jobs, schools, healthcare and public safety. We are taking the first step to do the work required to engage more Georgians who want to live their American Dream, or simply want to exercise their right to be heard.

First, we’ve got to identify, register and engage more voters who value freedom and opportunity. As the No. 1 state in the U.S. to do business, the No. 2 state for Black-owned businesses and the No. 5 state for active-duty military and veterans, Georgia is a growing, vibrant, and diverse state. But we know millions of voting-age residents are still not registered to vote — many of whom support the values of protecting individual liberties, better jobs, educational choice, affordable healthcare, lower taxes and smaller government, and public safety. By identifying and registering new voters, we can ensure more voices are heard on issues that affect our everyday lives.

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12/16/2020 — Atlanta, Georgia — U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler speaks with members of the press after participating in early voting at Chastain Park Gymnasium in Atlanta’s Chastain Park neighborhood, Wednesday, December 16, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

12/16/2020 —  Atlanta, Georgia —  U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler speaks with members of the press after participating in early voting at Chastain Park Gymnasium in Atlanta’s Chastain Park neighborhood, Wednesday, December 16, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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12/16/2020 — Atlanta, Georgia — U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler speaks with members of the press after participating in early voting at Chastain Park Gymnasium in Atlanta’s Chastain Park neighborhood, Wednesday, December 16, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Secondly, we’ve got to engage more voices. Broadening our reach across communities and building an enduring platform for greater engagement is crucial to our growth as a state. But expanding support also requires a continuous dialogue — and not just in an election year. As I’ve traveled the state, I’ve been struck by the power of the people around our state to make a positive impact on their local community. When we listen locally, communicate our shared values and our positive vision it creates that strong level of engagement. And it creates the dialogue about the policies that truly put the people of Georgia and their families, jobs and freedoms first.

Finally, fair and trusted elections are the bedrock of our democracy —and shouldn’t be a partisan issue. We are investing the time, energy and resources to build an infrastructure that can be sustained across candidates and election cycles. As a candidate myself, I saw firsthand that campaigns are like start-up companies, only they are shut-down operations after elections to the detriment of the dialogue with voters. If we’re truly committed to building a bigger tent, we’ve got to leave the tent up year-round, including outside an election year. But we also must address the lack of uniform implementation of rules surrounding our elections to ensure fairness. Georgia voters deserve transparency in the election process in order to have confidence that their vote counts.

Success means much more than winning elections. It means the policies that reflect Georgia values. Whether better education for our children, more safety in our communities, protecting our freedoms, or more jobs and affordable healthcare, we must keep people – not government – at the center of our efforts. Protecting our democracy starts with engaging new voters, continues by reaching more communities, and is achieved through the trust that every vote is secure. If we do the work to help every voice be heard, we can create more opportunities for all Georgians and make Georgia greater for generations to come.

Kelly Loeffler, a businesswoman, is a former U.S. senator for Georgia.