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These Black Residents Don’t Vote. Here’s Why.

“I don’t really trust either party, and that’s primarily the reason I don’t vote,” one Atlanta resident said.

Some Black nonvoters told Capital B Atlanta that their decision to sit out Tuesday's runoff election was driven by a sense that their vote doesn't have any impact. (Getty Images)

Georgia residents have turned out in record numbers to vote early in the U.S. Senate runoff between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker. In the historic election — the first statewide race between two Black major-party candidates — more than 1.8 million people cast in-person ballots during the early voting period, more than a quarter of all registered voters in the state. 

But as their neighbors marched to the polls Tuesday, some Black residents decided to sit this one out. They told Capital B Atlanta that their lives generally don’t change based on who is in office, and they feel that their vote doesn’t have an impact.

English Avenue resident Stanley Stewart, 34, said he doesn’t feel like either of the major political parties acts in the best interest of the American people.

“I’ve voted in the past, but I’ve always somewhat felt that my vote has little if any relevance to what’s going on. I didn’t really think it would matter — they say it matters — but votes can be cheated,” he said.

Stewart said current elected officials aren’t doing much to benefit people who are minorities and who aren’t middle class. While he recognizes that both parties use messaging about helping people, Stewart believes their main priority is their own agenda.

“I don’t really trust either party, and that’s primarily the reason I don’t vote,” he said.

Other residents said politicians prioritize wealthier communities over theirs. English Avenue resident Andre Smith, a 31-year-old hotel maintenance worker, said voting is a lose-lose situation for Black people like him.

“At the end of the day, it’s not going to benefit the people like us, and folks who actually have nowhere to go, or the homeless,” he said. As he stood on Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard on Tuesday, he pointed to a boarded-up apartment building across the street — an example of how this area of the city is neglected by developers and officials, he said.

“If we was in the midsection in the heart of Atlanta, that would’ve got fixed,” Smith said. “It’s crazy how a pothole can get fixed in the city of Atlanta, but a place of living can’t be fixed on the outskirts of Atlanta.”

There are several reasons why people don’t vote. Voter ID laws, registration deadlines, and purged voter rolls create barriers to voting, as well as disillusionment with the political process. In Georgia, some activists have raised concerns that SB 202, a state law that limits the number of absentee-ballot drop boxes and bans volunteers from giving food and water to voters in line outside polling stations, would dampen Black voter turnout. It also requires residents to show ID before obtaining an absentee ballot. 

Early voting numbers suggested that the impact of SB 202, which went into effect last year, was minimal. But a recent New York Times report claims that Black voter turnout was down overall in the midterm election in Georgia and a few other Southern states. 

While apathy played a role in many nonvoters’ decision not to cast a ballot, others said they  couldn’t vote because of challenges with the state’s registration process.

Maurice Thomas, 62, told Capital B Atlanta that he’s tried to register to vote every year but is turned down because he is homeless and doesn’t have a street address.

“I believe in voting; that’s our right,” Thomas said. “Because that’s how we make changes in America.”

Mechanicsville resident Willie Ervin, 60, said the last time he voted was for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“I know it’s important,” he said. “But I just didn’t put in the time and effort to do it.”

Ervin said if he’s still in Georgia, he’ll try to vote in the next election. But for many other Black Georgians, their skepticism about the political process and the power of their vote lingers.

“At the end of the day, money rules this world,” said Smith, the hotel maintenance worker. “I really don’t give a damn who ends up running it, because they’re both going to get paid at the end of the day, Herschel and Warnock. But is any of that money going to benefit folks like us?”