One Georgia woman is facing felony charges over her efforts to help her family and community vote. But these sorts of racist, voter intimidation tactics are not new for Georgia.
Olivia Pearson, as reported by Buzzfeed, offers rides and voting assistance to her family and neighbors, including shuttling her nephew to the polls during the 2012 presidential election to make sure he voted. Now Pearson, along with four other Douglas residents, are being charged with improperly aiding voters.
What’s notable, too, is that Pearson represents a significant voting electorate: black women. In Coffee County, where Pearson lives, black women had an 80 percent voter turnout rate during the 2012 presidential election. This follows trends that have been observed around the country.
And black women aren’t just voting, they are leading their communities. This is despite the fact that black women continue to be underrepresented in local, state and national politics, and continue to see urgent policy needs that affect black women pushed to the back burner again and again.
“Throughout the country, Black women are leading efforts to promote positive social change, preserve and improve their communities, and prevent the perpetuation of violence and inequality,” a report from Higher Heights and the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics notes.
Glynda C. Carr, co-founder of Higher Heights, separately spoke about the importance of black women to elections for a new campaign her organization launched called #BlackWomenVote.
“The new campaign provides Black women with tools they can use to vote and get their networks to vote. We know that when you fire up a Black woman she does not go to the polls alone, she brings her house, her block, her church, her sorority, and her water cooler,” Carr said in a press release.
Pearson is just the kind of black woman Carr is talking about. Pearson isn’t backed by some organization launching a get out the vote campaign, she’s just doing the work she knows is important. Pearson told Buzzfeed about her efforts — making calls to friends and family to make sure they are registered to vote and following up with offers of rides to the polls on election day.
“I would carry them to the polls,” said Pearson. “There would be challenges sometimes, especially from young people who don’t really understand the value of it.”
Targeting Pearson — and others in her community — with trumped up charges is outrageous, and understandably has voter rights groups concerned about the impacts it will have on voter turnout.
Unfortunately, Coffee County is not alone in targeting black voters with these voter suppression tactics in Georgia, including targeting black women.
For over a year, black voters in Hancock County have been filing complaints about aggressive, racist tactics used by the Hancock County Board of Elections to verify voters’ identities. This has included sending sheriff’s deputies to the homes of at least 180 black registered voters — which is already a scary enough prospect in a country where unarmed black folks are shot at astronomical rates by police — telling these voters they had to show up in court to verify their identity.
Georgia is “is unique in that a lot of the suppression we’re seeing is at the local level, with elected officials in communities that are smaller and more rural, and are not under the microscope in the same way that state elections officials are,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told The Washington Post.
Pearson and her attorney are fighting the charges — which could land her in prison for up to five years — while Pearson continues to serve as a city commissioner since retiring as a parole officer.
Residents in Hancock County, too, are fighting against the unnecessary and aggressive tactics they are experiencing. There is currently a lawsuit pending against Hancock County and the Hancock County Board of Elections and Registration.
In a recent press release celebrating the record-breaking early voting in Georgia, Secretary of State Brian Kemp said, “As Georgia’s chief elections official, I want to ensure every Georgian has the opportunity to allow their voice to be heard at the polls.”
Given how anemic his office’s response has been to these racially-charged voter suppression and intimidation tactics, ensuring “every Georgian” has their right to vote protected might be a bit of an overstatement.