SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Georgia has gone Republican in every presidential election since 1996. But this year, at the moment, Joe Biden has taken a narrow lead of about 4,000 votes. Some voting rights' organizers on the ground are claiming a victory for their organizing efforts. Nse Ufot is the CEO of the New Georgia Project, and she joins us from Atlanta. Thanks very much for being with us.
NSE UFOT: Thanks for having me.
SIMON: I gather your organization registered over 400,000 voters, which is impressive on its own, but you actually got them out to the polls. What were the logistics involved?
UFOT: Yeah, absolutely. It was never about hundreds of thousands of registrants. It was always about expanding the electorate and building what we call super-voters. And these are people who vote in every election in which they're eligible - so tons of voter registration coupled with voter education and, you know, smart, engaging voter mobilization tactics.
SIMON: I have to ask - did you say to any voters which way are you voting? Did that matter to you?
UFOT: No, it doesn't. That rarely comes up in our conversations. The idea is that we want to close the racial voter registration gap. We want to register new Americans, register 18-year-olds and build an electorate of confident, informed voters who vote in every election.
SIMON: As I don't have to tell you, Georgia's been plagued with allegations of voter suppression. Did you - what barriers did you see, hurdles that had to be overcome this year?
UFOT: Well, we're still counting, but many of us woke up on Election Day in Georgia, particularly in metro Atlanta, and found, you know, over a hundred polling locations that had been changed within 48 hours - within the 48 hours before the election. So folks went to bed on Friday thinking that they were voting in one place and woke up on Tuesday to find that their polling location had been changed. And as someone who has spent the better part of the past couple of months encouraging people to make a vote plan, this, as you can imagine, is disorienting.
SIMON: I gather you've been doing this work with the New Georgia Project for seven years now. What made it seem to click this year, just judging by the numbers?
UFOT: I mean, ultimately, I think that elections are compression points, right? They're opportunities for us to test our power and flex the power that we're building. And so, you know, much has been written about the demographic shifts that are happening in Georgia. I think that they were - the impact of those demographic shifts are accelerated, if you will, by smart, strategic organizing - right? - investment in political - in independent political infrastructure, the pandemic - you know, Georgians are dying. We have hospitals all over rural Georgia that are going to close. A summer of racial justice uprisings - a rebellion, if you will - so people are activated and figuring out how to make change. And so it's protesting, and it's voting, and it's grassroots lobbying, and it's running for office because, you know, the stakes feel very high for Georgians of color and young Georgians.
SIMON: You speak a lot about the culture of voting and trying to refashion that. Could you help us understand that?
UFOT: Yeah. I mean, one of the things that we've noticed is that, you know, voting is a cultural sort of event, activity - how we learn about it, how we talk about it, right? You know, part of the work that we're going to be doing, I think, I suspect, over the next couple of years is talking about vote by mail as an alternative, right?
You know, we are in Atlanta, in the cradle of the civil rights movement. And so there are tons of, you know, older Black voters who have - who remember - you know, I get up, I get dressed, I go vote in person. Like, this is how I vote. This is what I do. I say hi to my neighbors. I bring my grandkids. And so vote by mail represents a shift in culture, a shift in how people participate. And so, you know, we acknowledge that and lean into that.
You know, there is a cultural attitude, I think, amongst young people that, you know, my vote doesn't matter until they learn that it does, right? And so we want to accelerate that. We don't want people to have to wait until they're 30 to understand how elections work, to understand how government works.
SIMON: Nse Ufot is the CEO of the New Georgia Project. Thank you so much for being with us.
UFOT: Thanks for having me.
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