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Fight for the Right

Professors at Georgia’s HBCUs believe this election could have rippling effects on the future, and here are some of their worries about the upcoming election and the issues they believe the next president will need to address.

Faculty at Georgia’s HBCUs have a lot to worry about this election. Not only are they concerned about the platforms of each candidate, but they’re also worried about voter turnout and the several factors that might cause it to be lower than normal this year.

Despite the many obstacles, they are adamant that exercising the right to vote is critical for Black Americans. Between the coronavirus safety precautions and the increased emphasis on mail-in voting, the electoral process may look different than most years.

Millions have decided to vote by mail because it’s easier or because of health concerns considering the pandemic. However, efforts to convince voters that mail-in ballots are unreliable may serve to stifle the vote.

“I am concerned about the [Trump] administration’s expressions of [the prevalence of] voter fraud, which has been shown to be negligible, and I think it promotes distrust in the franchise [and] in the electoral system,” Morehouse College political science professor Adrienne Jones said.

Undermining vote by mail is part of a larger strategy of intimidating voters in order to suppress the vote, according to Fort Valley State University psychology professor Jerry Haywood. “My other concern is voter intimidation and voter suppression and people not feeling safe at polls,” Haywood said. “To say to them that their mail-in ballot is not going to be counted or not going to arrive on time ... is a part of the intimidation and suppression.”

According to Jones, the Morehouse professor, some tactics of voter suppression are more blatant than most years. “I don’t know that we have had a presidential debate where the president seems to threaten voter intimidation just before the election,” she said.

Savannah State University criminal justice professor William Brooks Jr. fears intimidation tactics could make some too anxious to visit their respective polling places on Election Day. “I worry that such measures will imbalance and in some ways invalidate the voting process because not all our citizens will have equal access to voting,” he said.

Brooks claims that when citizens don’t feel they can vote to decide who will represent them, the phenomenon undermines the political process. “If everyone is not allowed to vote equally and freely, then you have really limited representation,” he said.

Despite the pandemic and the prevalence of voter intimidation tactics being used, professors emphasize that it’s critical for HBCU students, and Georgia’s Black community more broadly, to show up to the polls this year. The presidential race is important, but there are other races and ballot initiatives that matter too.

Haywood believes that many voters don’t always understand the ways that down-ballot issues and candidates can impact their day-to-day lives. “People think that the president has this unilateral power, when it’s really Congress that lays the law, and the president is kind of the pen person,” he said.

Jones finds it important for Black people to show up to the polls given the state’s electorate. According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, Black voters comprise more than 30 percent of the registered voters in the state. “If Black people want a new president, it is going to be very important for them to vote,” she said. “Black votes —Black women in particular — are extremely important to the outcome for the Democratic party.”

The United States Census Bureau reported a record-high 137.5 million Americans voted in the 2016 election, but the Black vote dropped from 66.6 percent to 59.6 percent.

“It is problematic when you have 30 percent of the electorate show up and vote because then only 30 percent of the people in this country choose who the leaders are,” Haywood, the psychology professor, said.

lark Atlanta University mass media arts professor James McJunkins echoed a similar point, invoking the long and violent history tied to voting and other civil rights for Black Americans. “It is just a significant thing that people vote and express themselves because we’re seeing a president who is not the choice of most of the people in this country,” he said. “People have died for this right.”

Next: Here’s a rundown on the political races in Georgia districts where there are one or more HBCU campuses located.