Georgia’s Black Church Community Urges Congregants to Vote Amid State’s Voting Restrictions

Leaders of traditionally Black churches in Georgia held a campaign rally on Sunday, Nov. 1, to urge congregants to go out and cast their votes. The move came amid the state Legislature’s new voting restrictions.

‘Souls to the Polls’

Sunday’s gathering was part of the lengthy “Souls to the Polls” tradition, which pushes Black and Latino voters to head to the polls following Sunday service. 

According to a News10 NBC report, this year’s Souls to the Polls acquired a more profound meaning with the diminished voting hours enforced as part of Georgia Republicans’ recent legislative agenda.

A large bus and two dozen cars lined up outside the Rainbow Baptist Church in Atlanta to participate in the campaign. The bus had an image of John Lewis, a civil rights icon.

The caravan gathered in prayer with Teresa Hardy presiding. Hardy is an organizer for the Atlanta-based Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda.

The caravan then proceeded to a nearby mall that served as a polling area. There, organizers and participants voiced their call for people to participate in voting, which almost did not happen on Sunday.

What the Voting Restrictions Entail

Aside from the reduced voting hours, the Republican-backed voting restrictions included a ban on distributing water and food to voters lined up outside polling centers. The bill also provided a shortened time for mail-in ballot requests and early voting before runoff elections.

The Republican lawmakers who pushed for these restrictions argued that it was their way of bringing back people’s confidence in Georgia’s election system following former President Donald Trump’s false voter fraud allegations in 2020.

But for the state’s civil rights activists, such a statement is a smokescreen for an attack targeting Black voters.

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Attack Against Black Voters?

The News10 NBC article noted that Black voters were instrumental in helping the Democrats clinch the state’s presidential contest in 2020. The news outlet said it was the first such Democratic triumph since 1992.

Aside from the presidential win, Democrats also secured Georgia’s two Senate seats.

“Your rights are being taken away. We have to get out, stand together across color boundaries,” Rainbow Baptist minister Comarkco Blackett told News10 NBC.

Meanwhile, AP News noted Bishop Reginald Jackson’s criticism of the 98-page Georgia electoral bill.

“It’s designed and intended to be a punishment to Blacks for turning out to vote in such large numbers in 2020,” Jackson told AP News

Bishop Jackson has led over 500 African Methodist Episcopal churches in the state. He is also one of the organizers of Faith Works, an organization created by Georgia’s Black church leaders in response to the state Legislature’s latest electoral bill.

Members of Faith Works seek to position some 200 chaplains in Georgia polling sites to help manage any tense situation. The group also aims to offer grants to over 1,000 churches across the state so they can mobilize volunteers during the midterm elections.

For Rhonda Briggins, who chairs the Delta Sigma Theta Strategic Partnerships Task Force, giving water and food to voters in line is a delicate affair.

“The line between criminalization and being helpful is too close. We don’t want to get to that point. Again, we’re not telling anybody who to vote for. We’re offering water because you have been in line eight hours,” Briggins told AP News, referring to the state’s recent ban on handing out food and water to waiting voters. 

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