History, mistrust spurring record Black early voters in Georgia

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — They came by the thousands to vote early, descendants of slaves, children of the civil rights era and other Georgians standing in line for hours when all could have been somewhere else.

Yet in a year when issues including prejudice, racial justice and voter suppression are at the forefront, the Black voters saw giving up time to cast a ballot for the next U.S. president as worth the trade – even early in the voting process and during a pandemic that made merely going to a polling place a risky act.

FILE – In this Oct. 12, 2020, file photo, voters wait in line to cast their ballot early at the Bell Auditorium in Augusta, Ga. Black people are going to the polls by the thousands and waiting in lines for hours to vote early in Georgia. (Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP, File)

Still waiting three hours after she showed up to vote in Savannah on Wednesday, Khani Morgan, 75, wasn’t taking any chances with her health months after suffering a stroke: she wore a mask and a plastic shield that covered her entire face.

But Morgan said the importance of voting was drilled into her as a girl by great-grandmother Sally Williams, who was born a slave in 1850 and lived to be more than 100. Morgan felt compelled to vote early to register her support for Democrat Joe Biden over President Donald Trump.


“I won’t let anything get in the way of me and this opportunity,” said Morgan, who coordinates an adult literacy program.

The willingness of many Black voters to queue up instead of coming back another day is a measure of their determination and their skepticism about the system. Those in Georgia acknowledged they could have voted by mail or returned to a polling place at a different time; but with no expectation of voting becoming easier in the weeks to come, they saw waiting as a necessary step to ensure their votes get counted.

Born during a pivotal year of the civil rights movement, when Black people were still fighting for the right to vote across the South, 56-year-old Donovan Stewart put on sweatpants and sneakers for comfort and prepared to wait as long as needed to vote in the Atlanta suburb of Duluth.

“Many individuals went through a lot, suffered a lot for this opportunity,” Stewart, a military retiree, said. “So I could stand in line for four hours to do my civic duty. That’s what we’re called to do, to vote and try to make a change.”

Early voters have waited in long lines in other states, including Texas, Kentucky and Tennessee. But in Georgia, which is viewed as more of a contested state than in the past, elections have drawn heightened attention in recent years.

That’s been the case particularly since 2018, when Republican Brian Kemp defeated Democrat Stacey Abrams in a close gubernatorial contest that was plagued by long waits and allegations of voter suppression.