Close Read - 27 - Winning in Georgia w/ Anoa Changa

Georgia has become the center of the political universe. A Democratic presidential candidate won the state for the first time since 1992. And now it’s holding two U.S. Senate runoffs that will determine control of the chamber. These victories are possible because local organizers have been hard at work for years building a multi-racial coalition and fighting voter suppression. Anoa Changa, a freelance writer and political strategist based in Georgia, shares her insights on how organizers have shifted the state's politics from the bottom up and how political narratives in the South are changing as a result.

> Follow Anoa Changa on Twitter (@TheWayWithAnoa)
> The Way with Anoa podcast (Patreon)
> To Shift the Media Narrative about the South, We have to Rebuild it Altogether by Anoa Changa (Scalawag Magazine)
> How Ohio’s Racial Justice Movement Won Big at the Ballot Box by Anoa Changa (The Appeal)
> Georgia Working Families Party, New Georgia Project, Movement Voter Project’s Georgia Fund
> Related previous episode: How Persuasion Really Works with Anat Shenker-Osorio

Below is a transcript that's been lightly edited for clarity.

Aaron Huertas: Hey, this is Aaron. Welcome back to Close Read. This week's episode is all about Georgia. Georgia is a real battle ground state. Biden won it by about 12,000 votes in the general election. So a very narrow victory, but he was able to win because the state had the most diverse electorate it's ever had.

Black voters, Latino voters, Asian-American voters and Native American voters all went heavily for Democrats along with a solid portion of white voters. And that victory represented years of organizing work and demographic change. Finally paying off with a Democratic presidential candidate flipping a state blue that had not voted for a Democrat since 1992.

Now Georgia remains at the center of the political universe in the United States. It is having two U.S. Senate runoff elections. Democrats Jon Ossoff, and Reverend Raphael Warnock are taking on incumbent senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. This is for all the marbles in the Senate.

If they both win, Democrats are going to have the presidency, the House and the Senate for at least two years again. That could be huge. We could have amazing legislative accomplishments if we have that trifecta and don't have to try to get stuff through Mitch McConnell in the Republican Senate. So if Democrats win both of these seats, it's just an incredibly huge deal.

So the national stakes are through the roof on this even though it's a statewide election for just one state. And as the national groups and national money rushing into Georgia, as the national media rushes into Georgia, I wanted to put a lot of the discussions that we're having about the state into the context of what actual organizing and on the ground communication look like for people and organizations and for voters who actually live there.

So this week, we're talking with the Anoa Changa. She is a freelance writer and political strategist based in Georgia. She has done a ton of work with voter outreach groups there. And she's also a former attorney. So she is someone who understands voting law and voting practices very deeply. So basically a total powerhouse.

And I always enjoy Anoa's writing and commentary because her work is grounded in the realities of organizing. And she's a great translator for how a lot of the communications research we talk about, how a lot of the laws around voting and voting rights that we talk about actually translate on the ground for voters.

And a little bit of background here: Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia Secretary of State, he is a Republican who got a lot of praise nationally from liberals and from Democrats and from some media outlets, because he was willing to certify the state's election results for Joe Biden, despite pretty intense pressure from Trump and his allies in the Republican Party to do all sorts of chicanery: throw out votes, not certify the election, beg the legislature to overturn the will of the voters, all this crazy stuff that we've been hearing recently that thankfully is not panning out.

But if you follow what groups in Georgia are dealing with on a day-to-day basis as they try to get people registered and mobilized to vote and make sure that their ballots are cast, they'll be happy to remind you that Raffensperger is also doing a lot to undermine people's voting rights and to undermine people's confidence in the election system. So this is absolutely one of those areas where it's crucial to listen to people who are connected to local organizing, not just folks who are focused on national or presidential level politics.

Final programming note: thank you so much to everyone who has been subscribing on Patreon. We had several new subscribers last week, which was great to see. Those subscriptions are helping cover the cost of recording equipment and now transcripts, so each episode is going to come with a transcript for Patreon subscribers. They also let me support other creators who are doing interesting work, including Anoa, and I'll be sure to link to her work in the show notes so you can see what she's up to on Patreon, including her podcast and some of her recent writing. Also if you subscribe on Patreon, you get access to all of our previous episodes, which touch on a lot of these themes and include a lot of rich, interesting stuff.

I especially recommend the interview that we did with Anat Shenker-Osorio, which I'll link to, about persuasion and the race / class narrative, because we talked with Anat about her work, sort of at the national level, including a lot of the research she does. And I think what Anoa and other folks in Georgia are doing is really putting it into practice in a meaningful way.

So that's a really interesting pair because you get to hear how that work is playing out on the ground when people are tabling and knocking on doors and encouraging other people to vote, which is pretty exciting. So with that, let's hear from Anoa.

Anoa Changa: The work that you should be plugging ahead of the runoff is all the amazing work being done by folks like the Georgia Working Families Party, New Georgia Project and New Georgia Project Action Fund, Georgia Alliance for the People's Agenda, Poder Latinx Georgia, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Asian American Advocacy Fund. We'll get into this, but there's an amazing multiracial multiethnic multi-faith effort happening down here. That's like really great. So those are some of the major folks doing work in and around the state.

Aaron Huertas: Tell me how that effort is evolved over the past couple of years, because it is really integral to this incredible victory that we saw in November.

Anoa Changa: I mean, it really is. So we saw what happened in November, right. And people were like shocked, like, "Oh my God, who knew?" Well, the people who had been telling you as soon as we learned that we had two Senate seats in play. We knew we were going to have the one with David Purdue being up for grabs. And then when Johnny Isakson retired, then we were like, okay, we're going to have two Senate seats in play, this is a game changer. 

But that groundwork, that foundation, had been laid several years earlier. I mean, even earlier than that, right. We have people who have been doing a lot of work to make sure that black and other voters of color as well as folks who are coming from out of this state who are now relocating here, progressive white people, were really being represented in terms of how the electorate is being shaped down here. And people dismiss Georgia as, "Oh, it's just a red state" similar to how they do to so many other places.

But we've seen how we actually get people involved and engaged, when we actually speak to people about the issues that matter, then we start to see some shifts. And these things take time. I mean, I think organizers can all relate and understand that these major victories take time, right?

It's not just magically some charismatic--and I don't really even know that the president-elect even is that charismatic--comes in and makes the shift. But what we saw happening was different groups just organizing around the state, whether it's in rural parts of Georgia, metro Atlanta, just really trying to get people engaged more around what is happening.

And we saw a noticeable shift post 2016 that really shook the way that the Georgia Democratic Party in particular has operated, similar to a lot of other Democrats nationally, that we have to keep focusing on winning over moderate Republicans that we have to keep trying to out- moderate moderate Republicans to be the viable choice. And we're really seeing that now, particularly with the reign of Trump, that Republicans are going to vote for a Republican, they may decide on one or two races, they might not like that particular person, but they're still going to vote Republican.

There was a recent article that was just talking about how there were some moderate Republicans that voted for Biden here in Georgia, but they're going back to voting the party line and the Senate race, right? Like they voted for Biden, but they didn't vote for, you know, Jon [Ossoff] or Raphael Warnock for Senate.

And they're still supporting David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. And it's so interesting. People are like, well, they don't like Trump or what Trump stands for, but these people are standing lockstep with Trump on everything that he does. So that rhetoric, that logic, you can't break through that. Right? So you can't build a strategy on that.

But what we do know is that we have 80 million voters, currently, approximately who did not vote at all for either candidate for either presidential candidate. Those are the type of people who are in communities across the state of Georgia who have traditionally not been touched by the Democratic party or other political elites.

And so you had Stacey Abrams and a creation of the New Georgia Project back in 2014. You've had folks like Asian Americans Advancing Justice, so many different entities across the state that have made it their mission to do year round voter engagement work. Whether it's voter registration--which folks often see like, "Oh, that's just voter registration"--well, these organizations see voter registration as an entry point to the conversation with people and not just a one off, a we registered voters and that's it type of thing.

And I think there's a real misunderstanding. You have organizations like Texas Organizing Project and MOVE Texas, you have organizations like Black Leaders Organizing Communities in Wisconsin. I mean, you have so many different groups. You have the folks who do work through the State Voices table. You have so many different organizations around the country that view voter registration, this type of civic engagement, as an entry point for folks to having these conversations about what are the issues that matter.

So what we saw here, we saw folks also recognizing that we were having shifts in demographics in multiple counties in terms of population changes. So Forsyth County, which was featured on Oprah several decades ago, like 30 years ago or so, as being one of the most racist places in America, which has now had a noticeable shift in its API and Latinx community, we've seen the same thing happen in Henry County. Henry County actually had the largest shift to a Democrat in the last several years out of any comparable county in the country. And then Rockdale County, another county here in Georgia. That's rapidly been diversifying similarly. Right? So we know that communities of color tend to trend Democrat but it's just about making sure people have voice and representation in the process, because we know that the decisions, the way laws and things of that nature are shaped at the local and state level directly impact us and really well meaningful the ways. 

So even if things turn out fine on national level and whoever ends up president still ends up as president, it's still super important that we have people at the state and local level that are really thinking about how to benefit these communities. So we have a state representative here Bee Nguyen and one thing that I've appreciated about Bee is she's a first-generation Vietnamese American, and Bee continues to talk about things like not just exact match, which is a way that particularly Latino and Asian American folks have been left out, but Black voters too have been wrongfully removed from the [voter] roles. It's a system where they'll claim this name matches this other name and so you're registered in multiple places and bump people. When, in fact it relies on data that is riddled with errors. It relies on information and the Social Security database, which the Social Security Administration has actually told people who use these systems that they need to stop. And that's a process that was stopped here through advocacy in the legislature last cycle.

But Bee also talks about, you know, driver's licenses for all. We've seen this in New York and New Jersey. This is something that's being advocated by legislators here in Georgia, recognizing that we do have communities who do need access to driver's licenses, because especially when you're in a rural area, you need to be able to drive to work. Just basic things. You need to be able to get groceries for your kids. And so recognizing that there are these other things, a part of the system that people need access to. So the advocacy and making sure that we have representatives like a Bee Nguyen, like Sheikh Rahman, the folks who are in elected positions that can actually advocate for these communities.

So that was a part of the organizing mindset overall over the last several years. And we really saw post 2018, the way Stacey Abrams really took control over the political landscape here in the state with her win in the Democratic primary, that there was a real concerted effort from the Democratic party, arguably for the first time, to have meaningful constituency outreach.

We actually had real in-language organizing happening in multiple communities and not just in-language, but also culturally responsive and culturally connected organizing. So you had people, possibly someone who's Korean American, for example, who is actually a part of a particular community, then organizing within that community to turn out the vote.

And I mentioned Bee. Bee often talks about knocking doors for her sisters and being able to knock doors in their community in-language and how at ease people were. Because they could ask questions, because we also have a lot of folks who vote, English is not their first language, or they're not as comfortable speaking in English, or they're not as comfortable asking the complex questions that they need to ask about this system.

So these are all things that we saw prioritized. I know some folks will be: "Well, you know, immigration or those things, aren't my issue." But quite honestly, these are all our issues. When we talk about the broader community, looking here in Georgia, in addition to flipping blue, we also ousted sheriffs in counties outside the Atlanta Metro area, and have folks coming in who are now in favor of not continuing 287(g) agreements, so not having cooperation with their Sheriff's departments and ICE, which goes a long way for tons of folks. But it's another way that we can stop some of that criminalization of folks just doing daily living activities like driving. Like if you're caught driving without a license and you're undocumented, that's something that can put you in the deportation and detention system unnecessarily.

So these are some of the things that we just saw unfolding, but this was a part of the advocacy. The last thing I'll just really point on was there has been a willingness to talk real about issues and not worry to have to play or do a delicate dance. I mean, we see this with some issues because that's just, unfortunately the way politics works in America I think if you're trying to get to a certain level, but we have seen a fearless talking about issues and treating them all as bread and butter. People will act like matters of like immigration or race or things of that nature that are directly impacting communities are not "bread and butter issues," but all of these issues that impact our communities and impact our livelihood and ability to thrive are bread and butter issues. And so we're seeing more realness in these conversations and tackling them head on.

Aaron Huertas: Yeah. And you referred earlier to having a multiracial coalition. And like a lot of the discussion about Southern politics and politics in Georgia is: okay, what's black voter turnout, what about white voter turnout, and it's just sort of downstream of that. And I've noticed people fighting that narrative a lot since the election, and I'd love to get your perspective on it. Is that a mindset that's shifted as people's rhetoric around what a multi-racial working class coalition looks like in Southern states? Have You been using things like the race class narrative, or some of that other research to help inform canvassing and other operations? Has that been a shift?

Anoa Changa: What I really like about the race class narrative, just to pick up on that part of your question, it feeds into something that I think several different organizers in different parts of the country had already been through, feeling and shifting towards in their own work and communication. I mean, how we talk about issues, how we talk about our relationships to each other is really important, right?

And so we are seeing that even if people aren't naming it as that's what they're relying on, we do know that people are talking about the commonality to us in our communities and centering us as the protagonist in our story in that same methodical way that the race class narrative does.

There were these really great events recently, and they were Latinx organizers and Asian-American organizers doing these simultaneous cultural events together up in Gwinnett County, which has a really diverse population. But we've also seen some of that in some other areas that might be considered more rural. Because surprise surprise: Black, lots of Latinx, Asian-Americans, there are people everywhere. The one thing I also really appreciate having really understood and learned from folks who are API organizers--and even that terminology, I mean, we need to disaggregate communities, which is something we really need to do more of--because when we're talking about, you know, Asian-American outreach, we're talking about several several dozen different languages, countries, cultures. So there has been some really amazing work that has been happening. It's also interfaith in a lot of different communities, because when you're talking about folks, you may have a mixture of folks who are tons of different religions coming together.

So we are seeing some really great outreach efforts. Actually one of the first places I ever had boba tea did a boba to the polls event yesterday. And I was like, I would drive 55 minutes if y'all would let me know next time. But this is an Asian-American owner up in Gwinnett County who has been really supportive of electoral organizing, progressive organizing efforts over the past couple of years, from what folks in the community tell me.

And this was something that he felt he could do--him and his family felt that they could do-- to contribute to the effort. And so we see this across the state, different folks who maybe they own a business and they want to kind of open their doors, which has also been a challenge, too, because of the pandemic.

I think the pandemic has forced us to be more creative and is challenging ways to engage. But we do see a lot of focus on black voter versus white voter, but what we know the coalition is here: we have Black and other voters of color, we have, progressive leaning or non-conservative white voters as well. We have younger voters that are part of this coalition that is shifting Georgia in a very different direction. And so whether that's engaging with young people, in terms or ways that they understand, regardless of how they're situated across multiple different issues, or if it is having someone do an event like boba to the polls that is going to resonate. I'm not Asian. it definitely resonates with me because I love boba.

The folks who did Joy to the Polls nationally have come down as well. We've had several different concerts and stuff that people have done. Like I said, it's leaning into culture and seeing how people are showing up right now and just being their real, authentic selves and not worrying about what the playbook from national, Senate campaigns and stuff would say, because it's like, we know what is necessary in Georgia, right?

Like y'all didn't even think Georgia isn't was in play. You weren't even paying attention to Georgia. And so that challenge has been interesting because it's like, you want the support, you appreciate the support. I mean, it takes money to run campaigns. Maybe not as much money as people spend on them, but it does take money and assistance to combat the other side.

But at the same time, people do need to understand that we always say this: people closest to the problem understand the solutions. But so often in practice, we don't necessarily see that playing out. And so it is really interesting to see the differences in which national groups are listening to what folks are saying locally and who's just doing their own thing.

Aaron Huertas: Yeah. I'd love to ask about that a bit more. Because I noticed, I think the summer uprisings really affected a lot of white, progressive groups perceptions on this at least. And I've noticed a few more influencers and organizations looking at the runoffs and saying, okay, we're going to raise money for candidates because we always raise money for candidates, but let's also raise money for some of these local groups that'll be here in 10 years, whether or not we win or lose this race. And I wonder if you've noticed that on the ground. And in particular, some of those resources from this big national spotlight in this big high stakes Senate runoffs, if that--I don't want to say trickling down--but if that's helping build up some of the groups locally that have been doing this work for awhile, too.

Anoa Changa: I mean, there's definitely funds, from my observation, rolling in for folks in different organizations and what they've been able to do, how they've been able to expand. Like I mentioned earlier, Working Families Party now has staff here in Georgia where, you know, they had a few staffers located here, but like they actually have Georgia-dedicated staff now. And trying to build up, we see the New Georgia Project has expanded its operations. I always tease and say, who taught the CEO about coupon clipping the revolution because we've seen organizations like the New Georgia Project, like Women on the Rise and Women Engage, we've seen so many folks do work without the major resources and we've seen some impressive victories happen without all these resources pouring in. You know, long before Black Voters Matter Fund had the fleet of buses, you know, Latasha [Brown] and Cliff Albright were making it happen with what they could do.

And so I think that when we talk about organizers and grassroots work, a lot of us come from communities and spaces where that has been a thing. Like we've made it happen no matter what, like where I came up with the coupon clipping thing, just thinking about growing up as a kid or being a single mom myself, you make it stretch and you make it work. But to the point about whether or not we're seeing this real investment, I mean, that's going to be the real test of what happens post January 5th. Right? And I would encourage people to not use January 5th as a determination of whether or not Georgia is worthwhile for investing in it, or even the places that are maybe more local and dear to you. Because one of the things that I noticed is folks were like, "Oh, we need to go to Georgia" or "Oh, we need to learn what Georgia did." But there is so much amazing work happening, not just in the South, but across the South. 

There's so many great folks around the Midwest. Even though we're talking about Georgia, I recently did a piece for The Appeal a couple of weeks ago about some down-ballot wins in Ohio and the grassroots campaigns and work over a few cycles that went into flipping judicial races and a sheriff seat in Hamilton County, which is where Cincinnati is.

And then in Columbus, ousting a long-term prosecutor that was extremely friendly with the police. So these are lessons across the board that we can learn and invest in. But oftentimes our communities, our groups come up short--like if we could stretch these dollars a little bit further. Or if folks would have understood the importance of putting money into general operating support to allow organizations to spend money as they need to, instead of worrying about dancing for this $10,000 grant on something that may or may not actually help do the work moving forward, but it's what the grantor wants to see done.

When you pointed to the uprisings, I think that there has been some shift in philanthropy, too, a little bit, and then it'd be really good to follow up and see if that continues to push forward. Because we do need this work invested in the long haul, how we're able to continue to have a sustained engaged community is with sustained and engaged and continued work year round.

I mean, this work doesn't end just because the election cycle does, it goes into a new phase. It goes into another way of organizing people. So, I think we really need to see a shift in how the funding works, but also, for folks who rely on small dollar donors, I think that's also cultivating maybe more membership-based organizations to do this work for the longer haul as well.

So it'd be really interesting to see how thing pan out post January. But even looking at people shaking their heads at Texas, but then you look at like how much money was invested in places like Texas and Ohio compared to a Florida. And I'm not saying that Democrats shouldn't invest in anywhere, but if we actually have more equitable analysis on how we're spending money and investing money adequately, we may begin to see better returns and especially when that money is put in the hands of actual local groups and communities who know how to do this work and know who to talk to.

Aaron Huertas: Yeah. You know, when Keith Ellison was at the DNC he would take care of talking to the progressive table and the heavy duty canvassers and folks like that. And in one of those meetings, he said: you know, when you're campaigning and you actually genuinely engage with people in your community throughout the year, the conversation about whether or not you're going to turn out to vote is understood. It's kind of secondary. But if you're only coming around to a church to talk to them every two years before election season, forget it. You can make a little bit of inroads, but it's getting away from the cyclical transactional view of politics or in concrete terms, you know, are you paying for an organizer to go parachute into Georgia for three weeks from somewhere else? Or are you paying for somebody who's going to be there for two years and really build genuine relationships so the next time an election rolls around, they already have great relationships. And I've done parachuting organizing. I got a lot done, but I also recognize the limits of that.

Anoa Changa: Well, and it's not that that that's not even helpful, right? Like I'm even seeing folks now a week out, like should I come to Georgia and what is it that I can do? You know, I have also been in cities or in town for a weekend to help ahead of an election and to be there, to show support for a candidate or a campaign or a particular effort, that can be helpful, especially when you're connected to community.

So I don't want to discourage people at all because that could be a last minute needed lift. Those last final weeks in particular are the all hands on deck moment. The problem is when folks do it and they are completely unconnected to any type of strategy or anything going on. And especially when you're coming someplace like a Georgia from Chicago or New York or wherever. 

I mean, Chicago is kind of country sometimes for a Northern city. So maybe that would be. Fine. But I grew up and lived in Chicago and in New York y'all so I say that with so much love. I used to call Chicago down South, but up North. But I just think about when we really need people to be out in like someplace like a Macon or down in Albany or Brunswick or some other areas that are lesser known outside of metro Atlanta, because there's always so much focus in metro Atlanta. And yes, with a statewide election, you know, that's fine. Because you can drive up the numbers and that still matters. But thinking about moving longterm, thinking about municipal elections, local elections coming up in 2021 here, and then what needs to be done? Because folks, aren't just thinking about this runoff. I mean, yes, this runoff election is super important. This is the balance of power of the U.S. Senate. Like we understand, we don't need people responding on Facebook or Twitter about how important and y'all need to vote. We know. Trust. We know.

Aaron Huertas: Oh, thank god someone from New York with a blue check told me to stay in line. Thank god I was on Twitter while I was in line.

Anoa Changa: Really like we know, right. We also know what we're up against here. And it's really interesting when you understand that the voter suppression that is really built into the system and the way in which the law is being interpreted and administered by people who prioritize certain things.

And so we know what we're up against, we also know what areas need the most support, love, nurturing long-term. Because we're thinking about 2022, when it comes time to the governor's race, whether Stacey Abrams runs again or not. You know, as it's rumored, she is, but we'll see what happens. We will see.

But we really need a new labor commissioner. We have a labor commissioner that basically has scoffed at accounts from people that they are owed unemployment for the past six months, they still have not received their benefits. And we have a secretary of state--that while he seems to be upholding the law and doing his job--at the same time is double talking and paying lip service to ridiculous investigations and allegations. I mean we need more people in the Public Service Commission. Hopefully Daniel Blackman will be able to pull it out for this Public Service Commission race. A lot of folks have focused on our two Senate seats, but we have Daniel Blackman. who's running for the Public Service Commission at that race actually also inched into the runoff. And so we have the opportunity to pick up a Public Service Commission race, which is really important because Georgia is one of the states that has really high utility bills. And when we're talking about impacted older rural communities that have issues in terms of older structures, that is a huge thing to have someone with a thoughtfulness towards community in that type of role. I mean, even we're talking about broadband access too, right? So there's so much at stake right now, but it's also an opportunity to help people understand the nature of the way these different things work and how everything that we're doing right now for 2020 will definitely impact 2022 and beyond.

Aaron Huertas: And you started to touch on voter suppression a little bit. And I feel like the state gets held up as this example of where voter suppression has been among the worst, especially after the bad Supreme Court decisions. And there's a distinction there you've made that I think is really interesting. I feel like when most people hear voter suppression, they picture things like kicking people off the voter rolls which are very concrete, but you've also written and spoken a lot about the the much larger, sometimes unspoken, structural barriers to voting that constitute voter suppression, too.

So, can you unpack that a little bit?

Anoa Changa: I think when you and I first started out--before we started recording, we were talking about how there are some things that are voter suppression and there are other things where people are like, "Oh, that's voter suppression" and it's really not. And I do agree.

We really do need to be clear and focused when we're talking. But I do think that there is another thing that happens. There's an interesting line between what's suppression and what's disenfranchisement. But I do think that there is a conversation to be had. About when you have systemic issues that are very clear in a system, and they're not only intentionally disregarded by the people who are in authority or have the power to fix those issues, but they're even exploited that in and of itself is another form of voter suppression in my opinion.

So for example, what we're seeing right now in Georgia with the signature match audit that's happening, the secretary of state, the governor they've brought in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to help with signature match reviews on ballot envelopes, absentee ballot envelopes in Cobb County, based on some allegations, some claims that the people in Cobb County were not being as diligent and making sure that the signatures actually matched.

So with signature matching a year or two years ago we would have a lot of ballots discarded. And you saw this in various other states, too. Issues with large numbers of ballots being discarded because of signature match or people having to cure. The cure process was improved because of litigation because of a consent decree. And so actually one of the people I talked to about this was Sarah Ghazal who ran voter protection for the Democratic Party back in 2018 and early in 2019. I believe Sarah was the only full time party voter protection person in the entire county at that time. And now there are several more. But one thing that Sarah walked me through explaining the process: this is like a bipartisan review that was happening in Cobb County. So you had people reviewing the ballots if there was a concern or people, weren't really sure. Anyone signs your signature, you know, your signature can look different depending on the hour of the day, the day of the week, whether you're sick, happy, you know, I mean, it changes. And especially with kids today, I was so paranoid about my own daughter and her signature, because her signature is scribble scrabble scrawl, but it's not always the same scribble scrabble scrawl because the kids, these younger generations, they're not even really learning cursive anymore.

Aaron Huertas: They don't have check books

Anoa Changa:  They're not writing checks. Right. So it's not being instilled in them the same way. And when they're writing on the pad, because they're also, you know, using your signature on your ID, which is from an electronic pad, which may or may not even have picked up your signature properly.

This actually happened to my godmother back in 2018. She had to go through all of this stuff because her signature was messing up on the pad. And so it doesn't show up on her ID properly. It looks like just a smudge line. And so these are some of the issues and challenges we've seen nationally, but what we're seeing here, to appease the calls happening from Republicans, making all these outlandish claims about the election, is that we need to review the signatures because they were trying to demand that people's signatures were reviewed and conditioned with their ballots. But once the signature is approved, the ballot is removed and the envelopes are discarded. You can't match up people's ballots with the signatures on the envelopes. That then would negate the privacy we have as a part of voting.

So this is a process that we're undergoing now. I mean, bringing in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, their signature matching work that they do involves forgery, involves crimes. Right? So the criminalization, the use of investigation is another thing that is a suppressive tactic.

We see the secretary of state right now: even as people are saying "Oh, he's doing his job." He also has overstated, as you know, reported by our paper record, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, he overstated it by about a hundred or more, cases of investigations that are open right now as a part of an election.

But it's for the entire election cycle, not just the general election, that's one. And then two most of them do not involve any type of fraud investigation. But you say "investigation" it sounds very official, very serious, but these are everything from reviewing complaints made at a polling location because of an issue somebody had with the poll manager or against the county, they're very different things.

But we have a system that's riddled with inequities. We've all known as a nation that this was going to be a very difficult challenge, right? Like even having Mitch McConnell sit on things like funding for elections in the HEROES act or refusing to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act. These are things where we know that there are issues in the system and they're refusing to fix them, but they're allowing these things to stand. And that, in my opinion, is voter suppression because there are these barriers to people's ability to access the ballot and you're refusing to do anything about it. You're refusing to acknowledge it because you're concerned you might not win elections anymore. It's not about whether or not you're going to win elections. I mean, if you're worried about winning elections, change your strategy. Don't just remove people from the ballot or don't just block their access.

We saw this in Alabama in 2017 or so when they closed all those DMVs, but had recently enacted a voter ID law. Fun fact about Alabama's voter ID law. I love this fact because it just proves like how ridiculous these laws are. When the NAACP Legal Defense Fund--when they were challenging the voter ID law, they researched to see the accounts or allegations of voter fraud. There had actually only been one valid claim of voter fraud found in a 12 year period before that voter ID law was passed.

And so we have seen at least a decade or more of the Republican party alleging voter fraud to enact some of the worst legislation and most voter suppressive legislation that we've seen probably since Jim Crow. And we're seeing right now how out of whack that is, how they blow that out of proportion, how they make stuff up.

So hopefully going forward, we will actually have real concrete discussions and not just allow people to nip away at our rights because they're afraid of something that really actually isn't happening.

Aaron Huertas: Yeah. I mean, my most cynical take on this is that Republicans are manufacturing all of this paranoia around voter fraud and then they're going to pass laws to respond to that paranoia that they created. Which we've seen happen before. But now it's just so much more extreme

Anoa Changa: And they're saying the quiet parts out loud. I mean, I feel like we've said that so much since Trump came in office, but we're really seeing it right now. Right? Like here in Georgia, they have already said they want to revisit no excuse absentee ballots. No excuse absentee ballots passed back in like 2005, 2006 or so along party lines because Republicans wanted it. Right now, they don't want it anymore. The same machines that Republicans have been attacking passed basically along party lines last year. And they rushed the hearings through, even though people had valid issues and concerns. I sat in those hearings last year, there were real issues and concerns being raised about the machines for various reasons and the process for various reasons, that were some of those issues we're seeing now.

But at the same time that the risk limiting audit that was done, that was something that was fought for to be included as a part of the process that made the process better. So some of what we're seeing is playing out a little bit better because people fought really hard to make it happen. And so it's actually really astonishing because that was literally just last year that they forced that through. And they were extra before the pandemic. They were actually trying to force through some others changes to voting issues and election law, but the pandemic put a pin in it. And then we had to grapple with increased absentee ballot use.

Aaron Huertas: I wonder if you've run into this at all with discussions about voter suppression, particularly because this was such a high turnout year. Some people if they're approaching this at a very surface level, they say, "Oh, well it was a high turnout year. So it must've not been a problem." Or you'll see political science papers that say, "Oh yeah, you know, voter suppression is bad. But look at the evidence, people counter mobilize against it." And the organizing part of my brain is like people had to counter mobilize against it? That's terrible. Even when we have high turnout, that's great, but it's evidence of people having overcome these barriers and what could you have done with your time and energy if you hadn't had to fight the law.

Anoa Changa: Or how many more people could you have turned out if you weren't fighting? You know, I mean, when you understand that people are simultaneously running voter education, voter engagement efforts, while simultaneously running voter support, anti-voter suppression efforts, running legal campaigns; the Lawyers Committee and the Advancement Project and some other folks, ACLU, people do a lot of really great work around the elections like having the election protection nationwide 868-OUR-VOTE. But also the local stuff that people have done in different places like North Carolina, other folks have had their own election protection set ups too, but that is a lot of work to manage on multiple fronts and we still don't have these things fully staffed. So you will still see organizers still stretched, even though we have seen more resources coming in, even though the people have been able to hire more staff. So yes, you've been able to see more people reached and high turnout and engagement.

That's also the motivation, right? I think people were very disgusted with what they see, not just over the past four years, but this is Georgia. We very much remember 2018. There were a lot of us who were out there ballot chasing in the rain. And I mean, we watched our colleagues along with now Congresswoman-elect Nikema Williams get manhandled and arrested in the state Capitol for protesting to make sure every vote counts. That's why it's so fascinating. Listen to them demand that we're going to make sure every sure every vote counts when we literally had Brian Kemp declaring himself winner of the election that he also ran. And refusing to make sure that all outstanding provisional ballots had been cured and counted. So it's a real turn of events that we have right now. When people are just like, "Oh, well obviously it's not that bad because all of these things" there are still issues with these different counties. People are still having to fight the folks who should just be administering elections without issues. 

We've had issues down in the several parts of the state with people turning folks back from the polls who are doing what's called like line warming or comfort captain. So you may have seen different stories about Pizza to the Polls or, people providing food, water, things like that. The catch is you can not condition it on people voting. So if you have to offer it to anyone in the area, not just people who were standing in line. But part of it is recognizing that we do have people across the country who are in these very long lines.

Thankfully with the general election, we didn't see as much of that. I think because people did do so much more in terms of voting absentee where possible and early voting. But we saw it instead in early voting, like we saw early voting lines, upwards of 10 hours here. And so these are things that people are combating, addressing and dealing with, but people are trying to work around a system that is otherwise unworkable as it currently exists, or at least not workable for everyone equally.

Aaron Huertas: Yeah and if the status quo is going back to the Jim Crow era and that status quo hasn't been fully addressed. Guess what? That's still voter suppression.

Anoa Changa: And so what they'll say is also "Well, we're not intentionally, doing anything" but again, when you disregard the fact--like there was an article that looked at the fact that the poll closures that were documented, I think has been close to like a thousand or more that were closed across the country, primarily in Texas and Georgia, in Arizona, I think those are the top three states with poll closures since Shelby v. Holder back in 2013--when you look at those, then you look and see the time that people are standing in line, those same communities that had all those massive poll closures are now the same communities that have all these long wait times.

And it's like, "Oh my God, are you serious? Who knew that could happen? I mean who knew that was possible?" It's not rocket science, right? If you close people's polls, you consolidate more people into polling locations and you're bound to have lines. I looked during the primary and I looked at the polling location because our polling location was closed during the primary. They moved it for the general again to another location, but it was closed during the primary and the runoff election in the summertime. And I remember going over there and the president of the Atlanta public schools, he was in line for several hours trying to cast his ballot because his absentee ballot never came. And I remember riding past because I dropped my absentee ballot off and I was like, I'm so happy. I don't have to stand in line today, but I've never seen a line like that in my area in Atlanta before. And I voted in the last several elections.

I've never seen a line like that where I used to live. When we first moved to Georgia with my dad and my step mom outside of Atlanta, we never saw lines like that either. So it was just really interesting when we're now seeing, particularly because the pandemic had shrunken the pool and exacerbated a lot of things things.

I think that's the gift, so to speak, of the pandemic is that we've really been able to pull back the veil on so much inequity across the board and the election system and the frailty, the strain on the system we already have not to mention the issues around voter suppression and things of that nature.

I mean, when you have people who are upset about making sure people have access to ballots, and we saw this in Wisconsin, we saw this in Texas. We saw this in Pennsylvania, in multiple places where people were upset. Republicans were upset that people were getting access to ballots instead of risking their lives to go vote. It's been a very interesting and telling year in terms of elections and politics, I think.

Aaron Huertas: Yeah. Was there anything else you wanted to share before we wrap it up?

Anoa Changa: Really appreciate you for taking the time and concern, and I just think that, you know, for folks, if you want to help, definitely see what are the organizations that are doing work.

You don't have to necessarily to come down here. But there are plenty of folks who are doing virtual phone banking, text banking, things of that nature as they're making this final push. While everyone is really annoyed with all the phone calls and text messages final reminders, because early voting is tomorrow Wednesday, December 30th, and then the election is January 5th, next Tuesday.

So there's a lot happening, but for the long haul and the lessons that we all need to learn and folks who are in progressive organized spaces, I believe know this: what are we building onto? Where are we moving to? And each election cycle each win definitely helps us prepare for the next one.

Aaron Huertas: I think the Minnesota Democratic Party had a sign during the general election on a theater, in one of their cities or at their office or whatever and it said if you vote, we promise we will stop calling you.

Anoa Changa: That is the field. My dad was actually really annoyed because he was like, I voted two days ago, why are they still texting me? I was like: the list, it's the holidays. They might not have updated the list yet.

But amplify folks posts on social. Go through and just share people's posts and things like that because cause we know the algorithms are really janky. We don't have the built in bot army disinformation network like conservatives do. So we do need those real organic, real people's shares on people's posts and things of that nature. So thanks so much, Aaron,

Aaron Huertas: We got people,

Anoa Changa: We got people.

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