COLUMN: Georgia senate runoff election should be devoid of national influence

Only Georgia citizens understand Georgian issues. Non-Georgians should follow the lead of people who have been doing the work for years.

Sydney Lewis is a first-year journalism and political science major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about politics and identity for The Maneater.

Georgia’s runoff elections on Jan. 5 will decide which political party has control over the Senate. Non-profit organizations, parties and individuals across the country have a vested interest in the outcome.

This outside interest means people who don’t know Georgia issues or politics are involved in campaigns and may end up doing more harm than good. Instead, the nation should look to organizers who have been doing this work in Georgia for years and follow their lead.

With Georgia now deciding the fate of the Senate and therefore the effectiveness of the Biden presidency, organizations are pulling out all the stops to get the candidates they want in office. Some are calling for Georgia college students to change their registration to their college residence even if they voted in the general election in their home state. Others are calling for people across the country to phone bank and donate.

The issue is that each city, municipality, county, district and state has its own complex political history. People with no knowledge of Georgia politics trying to convince Georgians to vote for a candidate is never going to end well.

People who phone bank are given a script and a cheat sheet on a candidate’s issues, but if they aren’t from the state, they will probably have trouble engaging in policy discussions. Having an incomplete conversation with potential voters could have a negative impact on the candidate being represented.

“I really appreciate when somebody comes from outside of the state and wants to help and lets the local organizers take the lead,” Brian Núñez, Digital Organizing Manager at Georgia Shift, told NPR. If Georgia organizers are saying they should be the ones leading, it is the responsibility of the rest of the country to listen.

While donating is another way to support the campaigns without undue tampering of Georgia politics, it hasn’t been effective. In the general election, South Carolina Senate candidate Jaime Harrison raised the most money of any Senate candidate. As of Oct. 14, he had raised over $107 million compared to the incumbent Lindsey Graham’s $72 million. Despite outspending Graham by $44 million, Harrison lost by 10%.

Georgia voted blue for president because of people like Stacey Abrams and her organization, Fair Fight. The group helped counter voter suppression, especially in communities of color in Georgia. Young voters also had a significant impact on the results; 18-29 year olds accounted for 20% of voters.

Turnout for both demographics was high because of Georgia organizations who put in tireless and thankless work to make that possible. Local, not national, organizations made voting more accessible for young people and people of color.

“The messaging was not done with a team of just random people from outside of the state. It was … young people of color that are, like, from Georgia — you know, homegrown, and they know what works and what doesn't,” Núñez said.

Because of this, Georgia organizations are targeting young people once again for the runoff elections. At least 23,000 people are turning 18 between the general election and the runoff, increasing the eligible voter base and leaving candidates to convince a new batch of young people to vote for them.

The Georgia election will have consequences for the rest of the country, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the country should be running Georgia’s elections. People from Georgia who have been pursuing increased voter participation for years should be the ones taking the lead. National action taken for the races should be only at the discretion of those directly impacted.

Rather than phone banking for candidates, contributing to the efforts of people like Núñez and Abrams is the best way to increase turnout.

_As part of its commitment to highlighting organizations fighting for racial justice, the Maneater is encouraging readers to donate to the Solutions Not Punishment Collaborative, “a black trans and queer led organization that builds safety within our community, investing in our collective embodied leadership and building political power.” Donate at: https://www.paypal.com/donate/?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=EPH7USQP5L9RG&source=url._

Edited by Sofi Zeman | szeman@themaneater.com

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