Securing The Booth: Fulton County’s Fight For Student Access To The Ballot Box
Leading up to the 2022 Midterm Elections, student organizers nationwide faced multiple barriers in preparing their campus communities to get out the vote. In Fulton County, Georgia, more common barriers to student voting were coupled with the threat of removed polling locations – just months ahead of not only the 2022 Midterm Elections, but also what would become a historic runoff election in the state.
In August of 2022, the Fulton County Board of Elections proposed an elimination of the early on-campus voting polling places serving nearly 90,000 students, approximately 30% of which are Black students, across seven colleges and universities. The potentially affected campuses included Georgia State University, a Predominantly Black Institution, and four Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs): Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morris Brown College, and Spelman College. In response, The Andrew Goodman Foundation (AGF) called on the Fulton County Board of Elections to maintain the on-campus early voting locations. With a coalition of partners, AGF successfully protected the on-campus early voting locations from elimination.
“In the context of our national Student Vote Choice campaign to secure on-campus polling locations and promote student choice in ballot access, and our ongoing investment in young leaders in the field from student Ambassadorships, post-graduate Puffin Democracy Fellowships, and beyond, The Andrew Goodman Foundation immediately recognized the threat of the proposed roll-back of early on-campus voting sites in Fulton County,” said Yael Bromberg, Esq., AGF Special Counsel and Strategic Advisor to the President/CEO.
Yael continues, “we facilitated rapid field response with the ACLU of Georgia and the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition to co-lead a community workshop which scores of youth advocates joined with short notice. Collectively, we ultimately prevented the proposed roll-back with a two-week focused campaign in Fulton County. This campaign was key in demonstrating that not only must we continue to advocate for the expansion of on-campus polling locations through organizing, advocacy, and legal tools when necessary, but we must continue to protect them from proposed roll-backs. Legislative solutions such as those offered in the recent New York State mandate and the proposed federal Youth Voting Rights Act would go far to secure access and standardization for this protected class of voters.”
Despite our success, we still have a lot of work to do. On-campus polling places are a necessary first step for increasing young voters’ opportunities to cast their ballots, but can only function if student voters can access them. From this recent confusion surrounding the existence or elimination of polling places to changes in statewide legislation, access to the polls has been coming up as an ongoing issue in Fulton County, Georgia.
A former Andrew Goodman Ambassador and poll worker in Fulton County, as well as a current AGF Board Member, Evan Malbrough has seen the barriers voters experience in Fulton County firsthand. “The 2022 Midterm Election was the first major election after a redistricting year, and a lot of people didn’t receive notification that their precinct had changed or that they had been drawn into a new district. That was coupled with the fact that SB 202 now makes it so out-of-precinct provisional ballots will not count unless they are cast after 5 p.m. and the voter signs a statement saying they could not make it to their home precinct in time to vote.”
SB 202 is a 95-page bill, signed into Georgia law in March of 2021, that enacts voting restrictions explicitly targeting Black Americans. The law limits voting-by-mail options and criminalizes simple resources like giving water or pizza to voters waiting in line at the polls. This bill was a direct response to the record youth voter turnout in Georgia in the 2020 Presidential Election, and has continued to present challenges throughout organizing and mobilization efforts ahead of the 2022 Midterms, and soon, the 2024 Presidential Election.
The barriers in Fulton County, Georgia are an example of voter suppression, taking shape both as lack of information and confusion about changing polling places, as well as about redrawn districts and new legislation. Evan continues, “it’s important to get people adjusted to the newest iteration of the voting system,” especially with the ever-changing status of polling places and voting laws in Fulton County and beyond.
Lauren Nicks, an Andrew Goodman Ambassador at Spelman College, witnessed the impact of the confusion caused by the Fulton County Board of Elections threatening to remove multiple polling locations across the county, many of which serve students and other young people in the community. Lauren adds, “in a state where disenfranchisement is at an all time high and many voters struggle with long lines at polling places, the potential removal of the polling location caused outcry among voters and civil rights groups.”
Yet another obstacle for student voters in Georgia is the information surrounding valid voter ID for students at private institutions. Georgia law permits students at public colleges and universities to vote using their student IDs, but not at private institutions, including seven HBCUs. We must recognize the impact the compounding anti-voter laws are having on communities, especially communities of color, within Fulton County, Georgia. Without fair districts and easily accessible voter information, many Americans’ fundamental right to participate in the democratic process is stifled.
Lauren continues, “as a student voter, I urge the Fulton County Board of Elections to ease voter identification requirements. Thousands of Georgians, including those that are homeless or low-income, struggle with the underlying documentation needed to obtain a state ID or driver’s license.” The Brennan Center for Justice reports that eleven percent of eligible voters are unable to vote due to not having the identification documents required by the state. The barriers associated with obtaining valid voter ID are a modern poll tax, excluding millions from exercising their constitutional right to vote.
At Spelman College, Ambassadors are urging the institution to include the campus’ address on their student ID cards to ensure students looking to register to vote have proof of residency. In hopes of student ID cards becoming recognized as valid voter ID at private colleges and universities in Georgia, Ambassadors at Spelman are raising awareness on the breadth of the issue while sharing information on other voter ID options for student voters, such as a U.S. Passport or Georgia Voter Identification Card.
Every student deserves a choice in how they vote, whether by mail or in-person, from their parents’ address or at their college residency. “The Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere Program provides student leaders with resources and support to identify what stands in the way of the student vote, whether it’s access to an accepted form of voter ID, the location of their designated polling site, the time it takes to wait at the polls or receive a mail in ballot, or any number of other barriers. With deep organizing and advocacy networks on campus, best practices from the Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere Network, and legal support when necessary, Andrew Goodman Ambassadors are breaking down barriers to the youth vote every semester,” says Caroline Smith, AGF’s Director of Programs.
While the 2022 Midterm Elections are behind us, Andrew Goodman Ambassadors are currently organizing ahead of local and state elections in 2023, working on large-scale institutionalization projects, and already thinking about the 2024 Presidential Election. Join our network as we continue to combat voter suppression by obtaining and sustaining on-campus polling locations, ensuring that student IDs can be used as voter IDs, and spreading the word about how to vote where you live with your family, friends, and neighbors.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mia Matthews is the Program and Communications Manager at The Andrew Goodman Foundation. In her position, she works with student leaders and in communications surrounding their work. She currently lives in Orlando, Florida.