Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.
Now more than ever, an immense amount of power lies with those who can vote. But that with that power comes peril and an increasing movement to suppress voters. In Georgia, I experienced voter suppression first-hand during the 2018 Gubernatorial election, when I registered with my college address only to have my registration purged. After my disenfranchisement, I realized the problems that activists such as Congressman Lewis were fighting 50 years ago are still present today.
I pivoted my organizing and social justice work to focus on voting by spearheading the Atlanta University Center (AUC) Votes Coalition. AUC Votes is a non-partisan, student-led coalition of civic engagement-oriented organizations in the AUC focused on voter education. Specifically, we highlight the importance of all elections and their effects on HBCU students. Our work impacted the rate of youth turnout. In 2020, youth turnout in Georgia was 51%, higher than the national average of 50%. I am proud of our work in helping achieve this, but as we very well know, the work is never finished.
Now we’ve got SB202, which— similar to other anti-voter laws being passed across the country — restricts student voting and limits civic participation. SB202 is particularly of concern for young Georgians, who showed up in large numbers for the 2020 elections.
We’re worried about this bill for a couple of reasons. First, SB202 makes it harder for students to request their absentee ballots if they do not attend a state school or possess state identification. Under the new law, students who do not attend state schools and do not have a valid ID must send a photocopy or scanned copy of identification to request their ballot. That means some students, such as those who attend private HBCUs, like my alma mater, Spelman, will have a challenging time voting absentee. This is important because 70% of youth voted early or absentee in 2020.
Secondly, SB202 limits civic participation by adding more requirements for third parties interested in providing absentee ballot applications. Now student groups, nonprofits and universities are required to post warning notes advising the public that their applications are not government-issued. Organizations risk confusing voters and reducing the efficacy of their programs due to this new regulation.
Additionally, SB202 makes it illegal for a third party to give water or food to voters waiting in line because of concerns of bribery. But we know that there’s no need for this — people aren’t being bribed to vote by receiving water while already standing in line.
These regulations are a backlash to the more than 50% of my peers who voted and became civically engaged. Student civic engagement helped to increase student turnout over the last election. Placing burdensome restrictions on us now is an attempt to reduce our civic power.
While SB202 is a new, 98-page-long barrier, young people cannot give up. We must continue to vote and advocate for the democracy we want. There’s a few things we can do to combat SB202 and similar anti-voter laws.
1. Vote. Don’t let these restrictions deter you from making your voice heard through your ballot. Your vote matters.
2. Learn about your local elections and support efforts to expand voter rights. If you’re in GA, you can join the Georgia Peanut Gallery. Program volunteers monitor the board of election meetings, take notes and report back on issues. The staff at New Georgia Project, All Voting Is Local and ACLU-GA investigates problems at the local level and recommends changes that will remove barriers to the ballot.
3. Encourage your friends to get involved, too! Lead discussions about important issues, help them get registered and remind them about upcoming elections.
SB202 is a threat to fair voting access for all of us. That’s why we must continue to come together as a community in opposition to this new law. But while the policy is essential, if we are not caring for one another while we work for these policies, there will not be a strong community left to reap the benefits of our policy organizing. And so finally, I would challenge everyone to center your community in our future visions of democracy because what we have now is not working. We are what democracy looks like — a strong, vibrant, inclusive, diverse community.
Alix Swann is a Spelman College Alumna and Andrew Goodman Ambassador.