The results of the 2020 election represented many things around the nation. In Georgia, the general and runoff elections became a significant occurrence, with the states flip from red to blue. Looking forward, this could represent a model to analyze shifting demographics throughout the US. Overall, these changes will have far-reaching effects on local, state, and national politics.
Black White Red & Blue; Representing the Black electorate of Georgia After Dubois looks to analyze and compare Georgia’s demographics and voting patterns for the 2020 election year through the reinterpretation of W. E. B. Du Bois’ data portraits in his Exposition des Nègres d’Amerique in 1900.
On March 25th, 2021, Republican Governor Brian Kemp of the state of Georgia signed the 95-page Law, SB 202, or the Election Integrity Act of 2021, less than two hours after both houses of the state legislature passed it. According to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), this law violates voters’ first, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments as well as the Voting Rights Act. Some changes from this law involve criminalizing line warming, which is when a person or an organization provides food and/or resources to voters waiting in line, additional more stringent voter ID requirements, changes to the absentee and early voting processes, and empowers state officials to take over local election boards. It is currently being challenged by several organizations such as Black Votes Matter and the ACLU on the grounds of voter suppression and civil infringement.
As this next attempt of voter suppression occurs, and with its long history in this state, we look back on W. E. B. Du Bois’ 1900 The Exhibit of American Negroes, and exploration of Georgia demographics and how it relates to today, and more specifically the year 2020.
The Year Georgia Flipped: The 2020 Election
These policies come to light at a time when Georgia has become a particularly heated arena for conflicting political ideals over the past years. President Biden won both the 2020 election in November in addition to the runoff elections this past January, a historic moment for the state, as the last Democratic presidential candidate to win in Georgia was Clinton in ‘92, followed by almost two decades of consistent Republican backing.
Undoubtedly, these new measures to complicate democracy come partially in response to the unexpected flip of the historically red state to blue. The traditional notion of Georgia as a “solid” red state, however, masks the perseverance of a strong Democratic votership within Georgia throughout its history, which was able to culminate into a majority this past year.
The 1900 Exposition des Nègres d’Amerique
“At the 1900 Paris Exposition, the famed sociologist and civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois presented a series of groundbreaking data visualizations advocating for African American progress. These graphs, charts, and maps provided powerful glimpses into the lives of black Americans to convey both a literal and figurative representation of what Du Bois famously referred to as ‘the color line.” From advances in education to the lingering effects of slavery, these infographics– beautiful in design and impactful in content– made visible a wide spectrum of black experiences.”
– Princeton Architectural Press
In this study, we find that the blue votership of Georgia is deeply ingrained within its Black population, one whom DuBois would refer to as a “small nation of people studying, examining, and thinking of their own progress and prospects” over a century ago through the data portraits featured at the 1900 Paris exhibition.
More than a simple sociological study, Dubois’ display addressed a crisis of representation, refuting the racist institutions within Europe of the time and establishing a place for black Americans in modern, international society. We find the simplification of Georgia as a “red state” to be contrary to this work.
In later writings, Dubois foretold that the problem of the color line dividing both the people and outcomes of white and Black communities would be one of the primary problems the twentieth century would have to grapple with.
The Color Line of Race & Party
From our own analysis, we can confirm the legacy of spatial patterns produced by racial hegemony in the US. In the middle region of the state, similarities still persist between the percentage of enslaved persons in 1860 and the percentage of black residents according to the most recent 2018 Census.
Fragments of Georgia’s ‘Black Belt,’ as it would come to be known, continue to exist today, not ignoring, however, the effect of the Great Migration over much of the 20th-century in addition to the growing significance of Atlanta as a center for entrepreneurship in contemporary times.
The color line of Georgia today is not only racial but political, with patterns from the 2018 census replicated strongly by democratic votership within the 2020 voting poll. Counties with the highest percentage of black residents tend to be the same counties with the highest percentages of democratic votes.
The relationship is also maintained through the more granular dot-density maps of block group populations, which demonstrate the variation of population across the state aside from the county percentages, while also suggesting the significance of urban centers of both small and large cities for both black communities in Georgia and democratic votership.
Inverting this map, we see similar colocation between high percentages of white residents and votership for Trump, again demonstrate through the choropleth of percentages, as well as dot-density maps of the block group populations. The rural and suburban areas of northern Georgia play a much more important role here. Undoubtedly, the political replication of the color line was a significant, underlying dynamic behind several of the key factors influencing Georgia’s election this past year.
The Flip Explained
So we ask, what led to the flip?
We found three main factors: a change in demographics of eligibility, an increase in voter registration, and a change in demographics of votes cast.
Georgia’s voter population overall is changing. We see in 2000 that the white vote made up 76% of the electorate, compared to 2018 where they account for 67%. The black electorate has stayed consistent from 12 to 13 percent, highlighting its constant importance and need.
Relative to population, if we look closer into 2016 to 2020, we can see that the Black voters had the largest increase in registration, about 130 thousand more in 2020 than 2016.
Looking into votes cast by race from 2014 - 2020, we see a decline in white votership. In 2014, 67 percent and in 2020 61 percent of votes were cast by white voters.
Looking into those counties and the marginal change from 2016 to 2020, we selected the countries with the highest marginal shift and were on the cusp of blue in 2016 but much stronger blue in 2020; Rockdale, Henry, and Cobb.
Note, no county in Georgia made the flip from red to blue or vise versa. Instead, counties that were on edge of being strong blue or strong red cemented the change in 2020.
The Flip in Context
Cobb is directly northwest of Atlanta, while Rockdale and Henry are towards the southeast. As we will see later on, there are very different demographic makeups between Northern and Southern Atlanta.
What makes the increasing percentage of democratic voters in Suburban Atlanta so striking is that it was also the birthplace of a different movement.
Cobb County is predominantly white, especially as you move further from Atlanta, but it still has a substantial black population. It is the most educated and highest-earning county in GA.
Cobb County is the most heavily developed of the three counties we examined. It is primarily suburban, and the south of the county touches the City of Atlanta, so it has a much more urban context. In addition, in the center of the county is (1) Marietta, the fourth largest city in the Atlanta Metro with 60K people which abuts the (2) Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield. To the northwest are (3) smaller cities of Kennesaw and Acworth with combined pop of over 50K. There is one voting center for every 3,754 registered voters, the most we saw out of the three counties.
In the 80s and 90s, the county developed a reputation as a conservative stronghold. In 2016, Hillary Clinton became the first Democrat to win Cobb County since Jimmy Carter and the first non-Georgian Democrat since John F. Kennedy. In 2018, Stacey Abrams became the first Democrat to win Cobb County in a gubernatorial election since 1986.
We looked into the demographic shifts over the last 20 years. Notice the shrinking white majority.
While the county has moved further to the leftover time, there were moments where the political apparatus has attempted to use voter suppression to change the outcomes, such as a challenge by Cobb County Republicans to remove 16,024 voters from eligibility in the runoff election.
In the turmoil surrounding the election defeat of Donald Trump, the chairman of the Cobb County Republicans challenged the election results in an attempt to remove 16,024 Cobb County voters from eligibility to vote in the runoff election for both Georgia senators. The county Board of Elections held a hearing to decide whether there was probable cause to move forward with hearings for each name on the list. The board voted unanimously to deny the challenge.
Rockdale is a predominantly suburban and rural county, with Conyers being both the county seat and the only city with a population of 16K. Rockdale County is in southern Atlanta, where there is a demographic shift from majority white to majority black. There is one voting center for every 4,296 registered voters.
In the most recent elections, Democrats have made substantial additional gains in Rockdale, with Senate Democrats winning by 72% in the 2020 Runoffs.
On the other hand, Rockdale is still playing catchup with its more diverse present. For example, the monument honoring Rockdale County’s Confederate soldiers, which was placed at the corner of the county courthouse on Main Street on April 26, 1913, was recently taken down in June of 2020, just over 107 years later.
Looking at the demographic trends over the last 20 years, we see a dramatic reversal from a white majority to a black majority. This has led to impacts on local political elections, such as the dramatic shift that occurred in 2012.
Henry County is primarily suburban, especially to the north, while the southern part of the county is more rural. McDonough is the county seat, with a population of 24K
From the center, there is an increased level of development as you move northwest towards Atlanta. In Henry county, there is one voting center for every 4,600 registered voters, which is the worst of the three counties.
Henry County became a Republican stronghold from 1984 to 2004. Strong margins in Henry County and other Atlanta suburbs were vital to Republicans’ performance, offsetting strongly Democratic Black voters in Atlanta proper.
In 2016, the county swung into the Democratic column, voting for Hillary Clinton by a 4.36% margin of victory for the first time in 36 years. In 2020, it swung 16.11% deeper into the Democratic column, the largest Democratic swing of any county in the country. Demographic shifts over the last 20 years point to another dramatic reversal in white and black populations. These population changes helped to create the single biggest Democratic swing in a county in the 2020 election.
Now we examine the aftermath of the 2020 election. Georgia did have a runoff election held on January 5th, and the very next day the capitol insurrection occurred. We wanted to see how Georgia factored into these events
Parler: a social media platform, similar to Twitter. Significant due to the number of individuals who participated in the capital riot events and were also involved with the right-wing following on the platform. The app was later blocked on the Apple app store due to the events at the capital.
Looking into Parler data, we mapped out insurrection video uploads by county and found that residents from all our target counties had participated:
- Cobb had 116 uploads
- Henry had 32 uploads
- Rockdale had 15 uploads
In spite of large and deepening democratic swings in all three counties, we still found significant insurrection participation in each. This demonstrates the persistence of conservative factions in these counties who are deeply resentful over the election results. Given the conservative hold over state politics, the implications can be found in the new SBS 202 law mentioned previously.
To better understand the impacts of the new law, we look at how each party voted in 2020. We found a large utilization of absentee ballots and early voting across both parties, however, more Republicans voted on election day and more Democrats voted by mail. This was due largely to Covid, but the effects of these percentages were clearly felt and the results show in the new SBS 202 law where many changes have been made to absentee voting and early voting.
Looking more specifically to changes done to the absentee and early voting process as a result of the new voter law:
- The earliest voters can request a mail-in ballot will be 11 weeks before an election instead of 180 days — less than half the original timeframe.
- Instead of returning an application by the Friday before election day, it now backs it up to two weeks.
- Counties will also begin mailing out absentee ballots about three weeks later than before, starting four weeks before the election instead of seven.
- Requesting and returning a ballot will require new ID rules.
- State and local governments are no longer allowed to send unsolicited applications, and third-party groups that send applications will be fined.
- There will also be a special paper requirement for ballots.
- This law now requires all 159 counties to have at least one dropbox, caps the number of boxes at one per 100,000 active voters or one for every early voting site, and moves them inside early voting sites instead of outside on government property.
- And, the drop boxes will only be accessible during early voting days instead of 24/7.
The law was primarily driven by conspiracy theories of voter fraud and election stealing. Even though these claims have been proven false in court, the GOP-dominated state legislature was able to pass the bill through both the house and senate then acquire the governor’s sign-off within two hours of the bill’s passing. Both local and federal officials strongly opposed the law. To this effect, Democrats at the national level introduced the For the People Act. Yet, this law will likely not be passed due to the Republican filibuster. This law is now being dubbed the ‘Jim Crow law of 2021’ due to the greater impacts it will have to black voters over white voters. The echoes of this legacy can be seen in the moments of the bill’s signing, where a room of white men, under a painting of a plantation, signed a bill that negatively affects black voters, all while a black state representative was arrested for knocking on the door.
“I was proud to sign S.B. 202 to ensure elections in Georgia are secure, fair, and accessible. I appreciate the hard work of members of the General Assembly to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.” Governor Kemp’s Twitter
– Governor Kemp’s Twitter
The 2020 election and the respected outcome in Georgia played a larger role in the new voter laws coming out in 2021. We see similar laws passing in many GOP strong states and states where the GOP was once the majority party. All in all, 361 new voter laws have been introduced in 47 states as of March 2021 that aim to control future voter outcomes. This goes to show that the event of 2020 and the outcomes of Georgia voter history are gleaming a future that is riddled with measures to ensure voter control again.
We witnessed just a day after the Georgia runoff election in January the events of the U.S. Capital Insurrection. Those involved have been linked to far-right activities and engagements and Trump’s sentiments of a “rigged” and “travesty of a 2020 Presidential election”. Former President Trump tweeted in support of Georgia’s GOP amid the passing of the Election Integrity Act of 2021.
President Biden has called the new bill a “blatant attack on the constitution” and is urging Congress to pass the Democrats For The People Act which would bring “about some of the most significant changes to U.S. voting law in decades” and would reserve many of the changes coming as a result of Georgia’s Election Integrity Act of 2021.
Abrams, S. (n.d.). The Abrams Playbook. Retrieved from https://fairfight.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/TheAbramsPlaybook.pdf
Bacon Jr, P. (2020, November 18). How Georgia turned blue. Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-georgia-turned-blue/ Black voters in Georgia had the largest increase in registration since 2016. (2020, December 21). Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/12/21/black-latino-and-asian-americans-have-been-key-to-georgias-registered-voter-growth-since-2016/ft_2020-12-21_garegisteredvoters_01/
Gallagher, D., & LeBlanc, P. (2021, March 30). Groups file second lawsuit challenging new Georgia voting law. Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/29/politics/georgia-second-lawsuit-voting-law/index.html
Georgia election results. (2021, January 05). Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/11/03/us/elections/results-georgia.html
Green, E. (2020, November 13). What just happened in Georgia? Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/11/biden-win-georgia-democrats-senate-runoff/617001/
Hart, R. (2021, March 04). House passes LANDMARK election reform bill to vastly Expand VOTING Access, bill now advances to senate. Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/roberthart/2021/03/04/house-passes-landmark-election-reform-bill-to-vastly-expand-voting-access-bill-now-advances-to-senate/?sh=4538edd03b09
Herndon, A. (2020, December 07). The suburbs helped Elect BIDEN. can they GIVE Democrats the senate, too? Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/07/us/politics/Atlanta-suburbs-runoff-Georgia.html
Johnson, L. F. (2020, December 18). Breaking: Cobb REPUBLICANS attempt to get 16,024 Cobb County VOTERS declared ineligible for voting in THE runoffs. Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://cobbcountycourier.com/2020/12/breaking-cobb-republicans-attempt-to-get-16024-cobb-county-voters-declared-ineligible/
NYTimes Interactive. (2021, January 05). Georgia election results. Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/11/03/us/elections/results-georgia.html
Noe-Bustamante, L., & Budiman, A. (2020, December 21). Black, Latino, Asian adults key to Georgia registered voter increase since 2016. Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/12/21/black-latino-and-asian-americans-have-been-key-to-georgias-registered-voter-growth-since-2016/
Schaul, K., Stevens, H., & Keating, D. (2020, November 08). How Georgia became a swing state for the first time in decades. Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/elections/2020/11/08/georgia-swing-state-democrats/?arc404=true
Shapiro, L., & Mayes, B. (2020, November 07). Exit poll results and analysis from Georgia. Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/elections/interactive/2020/exit-polls/georgia-exit-polls/
Solender, A. (2021, March 26). Trump says New Georgia election LAW would’ve prevented his loss in the state. Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewsolender/2021/03/26/trump-says-new-georgia-election-law-wouldve-prevented-his-loss-in-the-state/?sh=3785607f1b59
Turton, W., & Gurman, M. (n.d.). Bloomberg.com. Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-10/parler-cuts-ios-team-after-apple-blocks-return-to-app-store
Wicker, J. (2021, March 27). Georgia’s governor signed ‘Jim CROW’ voting bill under painting of a slave plantation. Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/mar/27/georgia-governor-painting-slave-plantation-voting-bill-signing
African American Photographs assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition: (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2021, from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/search/?st=grid&co=anedub
Formal photograph of W. E. B. Du Bois [Digital image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._E._B._Du_Bois#/media/File:WEB_DuBois_1918.jpg
Minchillo, J. (n.d.). Capitol Riot [Digital image]. https://www.vpr.org/post/vermont-whats-your-response-us-capitol-insurrection#stream/0
Photograph of the Exhibit of the American Negroes at the Paris Exposition, 1900 [Digital image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Exhibit_of_American_Negroes#/media/File:Exhibit_of_the_American_negroes_at_the_Paris_exposition.jpg
Current and past elections results: Elections. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://sos.ga.gov/index.php/Elections/current_and_past_elections_results
Owens, S. (2019, October 10). Education in Georgia’s Black Belt: Policy Solutions to Help Overcome a History of Exclusion. Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://gbpi.org/education-in-georgias-black-belt/
McDonald, K. (n.d.). Parler Metadata. Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://gist.github.com/kylemcdonald/d8884da1a82ef50754ee49e0b6561071
Voter registration statistics: Elections. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://sos.ga.gov/index.php/elections/voter_registration_statistics
U.S. Census Bureau. ACS 2018 5-Year Estimates [dataset]. https://data.census.gov/