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Georgia's Electorate is Changing

Bhavana Kunnath

Georgia’s electorate is getting younger and more diverse and the priorities of Latino voters are shifting, said a politics and civil rights expert.

Since the 2020 election, Georgia has registered one million new voters most of whom are young people and people of color the expert said citing a report on the Latino electorate published by the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, the University of Georgia’s Department of Political Science, and the NALEO Educational Fund. This change in the state electorate seems to reflect changes in Georgia’s population as the 2020 census showed that Georgia’s Latino population increased by 32% with black and Asian American communities showing similar increases while the white population declined. It also aligns with shifting tides in the national electorate, which saw the number of Latino voters increase by a record-breaking 6 million between 2016 and 2020 with 2.4 million of those voters being young Latinos (ages 18-40).

The priorities of Latino voters have shifted over time as well according to the results of recent national polls and focus group studies, which GALEO CEO Jerry Gonzalez shared in his lecture in Oglethorpe’s Philip Weltner Library on Nov. 1. While the cost of living remained the top issue with 47% of those polled, 30% now said women’s reproductive rights were also a priority with 72% of those polled saying they would support passing a law to guarantee access to abortion. “What we learned from the polling that’s been done is, despite their strong views and faith, Latinos believe that choosing whether or not to expand their family is really a decision that they should make as a family,” he said. “Latinos don’t believe in forced birth as a way of expanding families because it’s not just a personal decision that impacts the family but it is also a

financial decision that impacts the family.” Gonzalez also said that 23% of those polled listed addressing mass shootings as a major concern, which he attributed to the recency of the school shooting in Uvalde in which many of the victims were of Mexican descent.

These changes are pressing as Latinos accounted for 385,185 of Georgia’s registered voters or 4% of the state’s electorate in 2020. Gonzalez acknowledged that they seem insignificant when considering Georgia’s millions of registered voters, but argued that the context says otherwise. “Romney won Georgia by about 300,000 votes when he was running for president, Trump won Georgia by 200,000 votes, Kemp won with under 50,000 votes, and then Biden won by less than 11,000 votes. As you can see, we started at 300,000 and the margins have only become tighter. … So 385,000 doesn’t sound like a lot when you’re talking about 7 million voters but when the margins are really tight in state-wide races, you see there’s tremendous power there.”

The growing diversity of Georgia’s population and their shifting priorities make having political leaders who can accurately represent Georgia’s communities more important, but Gonzalez explained that the undercounting of minorities in the 2020 census and gerrymandering have prevented Georgia’s representatives from truly reflecting its communities of color. “The census is about two things: power and money,” he said. Because the census determines how much federal funding the state will get for 10 years, undercounting keeps tens of thousands of dollars of crucial funding for schools, local infrastructure, and hospitals away from communities that need them. The census also determines how the legislature re-districts and thus which communities comprise the majority in certain voting districts. Gonzalez says this is why GALEO partnered with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the People’s Agenda, and Common Cause to present maps to the congressional and state senates that would

create coalition districts. “Over 50% of congressional and legislative districts could be majority-minority districts,” he said. “The legislature created probably a third of those [proposed]. They packed or broke up our communities in ways that didn’t give us a fair shot of equal representation in the legislature or in congress. We’re still in federal court for that particular case.”

Gonzalez acknowledged that the fight for better representation would be a long one, but it is a fight he is intent on seeing through. Alongside being the CEO of GALEO, Gonzalez is also a Commissioner on the Georgia State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and previously served as the committee's Chairman. He has even been recognized as one of the 100 most influential Georgians for the past nine years by Georgia Trends Magazine. Through GALEO and its network, Gonzalez has been able to forge coalitions with the Asian American and refugee communities to prevent Georgia’s legislature from passing anti-immigrant policies for the past five years. GALEO, which he helped found in 2003, is a nonpartisan nonprofit that works to increase civic engagement and leadership in the Latino community, and it was one of the organizations that successfully sued the Trump administration to prevent the 2020 census from including a citizenship question. GALEO mainly supports Georgia’s Latino community through its leadership series, support programs for Latino immigrants, and voter registration efforts.

His lecture at Oglethorpe, which was organized by Dr. Joseph Knippenberg and hosted by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Academic Affairs office, was a form outreach, and, much like GALEO’s door-knocking campaign, it seemed to make an impact on the dozens of students who attended. Ashleigh Ewald, a sophomore at Oglethorpe and the president of College Democrats of Georgia, said she would love to work with GALEO and

connect them with student organizations on campus. She felt that the lecture allowed her “to explore certain trends and be able to relate them to my American politics courses and understand how culture and trends influence the way people vote.” In the question-answer session following the lecture, other students expressed an interest in hosting the GALEO Institute for Leadership on the Oglethorpe campus and asked about ways to get involved with GALEO.

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