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What’s at Stake for Black Voters in Georgia on Election Day

Here is an overview of key races, candidates, and down-ballot measures that will impact the state and local communities.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams will face off for a second time on Election Day, Nov. 8. (Ben Gray/Associated Press)

The importance of the 2022 midterm election is not lost on voters in metro Atlanta and the state. Several races could alter the course of Georgia’s — and the nation’s — political landscape.

An estimated 2 million Georgians have already cast their ballots during the state’s early voting period, setting a record. More are expected to travel to the polls. Long lines are expected at polling locations in metro Atlanta, and voters will experience the full impact of the state’s controversial Election Integrity Act of 2021, aka SB 202. The law makes sweeping changes to how and when residents can vote, who is in charge of local voting decisions, and what happens after ballots are counted.

Affordable housing, crime, inflation, the overall economy, health care services, and abortion rights are just some of the issues on the minds of Black Georgians this election cycle. Black voters, who make up 33% of the state’s population, are expected to play a pivotal role in the outcome of key matchups, including the race for governor and U.S. Senate.

Several Black candidates — including Stacey Abrams, Janice Laws Robinson, and Nakita Hemingway — have a chance to make history if they win their respective statewide office races.

Below is a breakdown of the most crucial races, candidates, and down-ballot measures we’re keeping an eye on.

Governor: Brian Kemp vs. Stacey Abrams 

The highly anticipated rematch between Kemp and Abrams will decide who leads the state of Georgia for the next four years. If Abrams wins, she will become the first Black woman in U.S. history to serve as governor of a state.

The political rivals’ last matchup four years ago was decided by fewer than 55,000 votes. Since then, 1.6 million more people have registered to vote in Georgia.

Abrams’ signature policy proposal is expanding Medicaid in the state, which she says will bring an estimated $3.5 billion in added revenue to address hospital closures and create 64,000 jobs, particularly in rural regions desperate for economic growth.

Kemp has made battling inflation and improving the overall economy through tax rebate programs a signature issue in his reelection bid, arguing pandemic relief bills championed by Democrats in Congress and President Joe Biden are to blame for rising prices.

Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (left) is battling to retain his seat against Republican challenger Herschel Walker. (Associated Press)

U.S. Senate: Raphael Warnock vs. Herschel Walker

It’s the first U.S. Senate race between two major-party Black candidates in state history, and only the second such race in U.S. history.

Warnock has credited the American Rescue Plan supported by him and other Democrats for providing economic relief to Georgia families during the pandemic and securing more than $175 million in added funding for the state’s HBCUs.

Warnock also has touted his support for policy proposals aimed at reducing inflation, including suspending the federal gas tax to lower fuel prices, curbing the price of prescription drugs, and capping the cost of insulin at $35 per month. More than 12% of Georgia’s population suffers from diabetes. The disease is nearly twice as common among Georgia’s Black population.

Walker became the first Black Republican U.S. Senate nominee in Georgia history in May. The former University of Georgia football star and Heisman Trophy winner has accused Warnock of supporting policies that exacerbated inflation and violent crime during the pandemic, two issues Black voters have cited repeatedly as major concerns for them this year.

Walker has also been plagued by scandals on the campaign trail this year. Walker’s Black supporters have said Republicans gaining control of the U.S. Senate is more important to them than the GOP candidate’s alleged personal transgressions.

Secretary of State: Brad Raffensperger vs. Bee Nguyen 

This race will have a major impact on voting rights in Georgia. Black voters have expressed concerns ever since the Republican-led state legislature passed SB 202 in response to baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud following the 2020 election. The secretary of state’s primary job is managing elections at the state level. 

Raffensperger is the GOP incumbent who received mainstream praise for not caving to former President Donald Trump when the latter pressured him to “find” votes in Georgia after his failed reelection bid.

Voting rights activists have also criticized Raffensperger for supporting SB 202 and other policies that some argue were designed to reduce Black voter turnout.

Nguyen is the 41-year-old Democratic state representative who locked in her party’s nomination in June following a runoff race victory over Dee Dawkins-Haigler.

She’s also the first Vietnamese American to be elected to the Georgia General Assembly. In 2017, she became Stacey Abrams’ successor in the state House after Abrams launched her first bid for governor.

If elected, Nguyen says she plans to invest in local election boards across the state so they have the resources and equipment they need to run “free, fair, and efficient elections.”

She also intends to launch comprehensive voter education and outreach programs to ensure voters “know exactly what steps they need to take in order for them to access the ballot box and make sure that their vote counts.”

Lieutenant Governor: Charlie Bailey vs. Burt Jones 

Whoever wins this race will play an important role in setting the legislative agenda in the Georgia General Assembly.

Bailey is the former attorney general candidate who received Stacey Abrams’ endorsement in May before defeating Democratic rival Kwanza Hall in their June runoff race. Like Abrams, Bailey has campaigned in support of expanding Medicaid, maximizing funding for public schools, and giving raises to teachers and police officers throughout the state.

Jones is a state senator who has campaigned in support of reducing regulations and eliminating the state income tax to stimulate job growth. He also promoted false claims of 2020 election fraud during the primary season earlier this year. 

Labor Commissioner: William Boddie Jr. vs. Bruce Thompson 

This race will decide who gets to lead Georgia’s Department of Labor. The DOL is the office responsible for managing a number of critical employment-related services at the state level, including processing unemployment checks, maintaining workforce statistics, and providing career training to help state residents secure better-paying jobs.

Last year, a Bloomberg investigation revealed that Black residents made up about 32% of Georgia’s labor force between March 2020 and February 2021, but 53% of their unemployment claims were denied by the DOL during the same span. White folks, in contrast, represented 59% of workers, but just 24% of their uninsurance claims were denied, the news service found.

Current Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, who has led the department since 2011, announced his retirement earlier this year. 

Boddie, a state representative, is one of the lawmakers who helped constituents sort out their unemployment claim problems after their calls to the DOL went unanswered. He’s vying to become just the second Black person ever to serve as Georgia’s labor commissioner. Boddie wants to mandate implicit racial bias training for DOL employees to make sure what happened to Black unemployment applicants during the pandemic never happens again.

His GOP challenger, state sen. Bruce Thompson wants to use technology to modernize the labor department’s operations and leverage his business experience to improve the department’s efficiency.

Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner: John King vs. Janice Laws Robinson

Laws Robinson is competing to replace the GOP incumbent King. If she’s successful, she’ll become the first Black woman ever to serve as insurance and safety fire commissioner in Georgia. This officer holder’s main job is regulating insurance companies and their products at the state level to ensure they’re not taking advantage of Georgia residents.

Georgia has some of the highest auto insurance rates in the country. Laws Robinson says insurance providers in the state often use socioeconomic factors that have nothing to do with actual risk to justify charging Black people more than their non-Black counterparts. It’s a problem she wants to help solve.

Kemp chose King to serve as commissioner three years ago. During his October debate against Laws Robinson, King touted his efforts to stop insurance fraud in Georgia. Under his leadership, he said, his office has recovered more than $40 million from insurance companies.

Commissioner of Agriculture: Nakita Hemingway vs. Tyler Harper

This race is important for the future livelihoods of local farmers and Black voters who want healthy foods at cost-effective prices in their communities.

Metro Atlanta had the eighth-largest share nationally of people living in food deserts last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Insufficient access to healthy and affordable food is a sizable problem for low-income Black communities in Georgia.

Hemingway is a licensed Realtor from Savannah and a fifth-generation farmer who would become Georgia’s first Black ag commissioner if she wins this race.

She plans to open farmers markets in communities across the state to reduce the number of healthy food deserts in urban and rural areas.

Hemingway’s GOP opponent, state Sen. Tyler Harper, has campaigned on ending foreign trade deals that prioritize producers in other countries over farmers in Georgia. He also wants to partner with schools and colleges throughout Georgia to promote agricultural education for students who want to pursue farming careers.

State School Superintendent: Richard Woods vs. Alisha Thomas Searcy 

Whoever wins this race will be in charge of carrying out Georgia Board of Education policies at the state level, including how topics of race and racism are taught in K-12 classrooms.

Searcy is a former state legislator and a Democrat who supports giving parents a greater ability to choose teachers and curriculum by using technology to connect students throughout the state with the educators and classes they want to take.

She also would be the first Black woman to hold the state school superintendent title if she defeats Woods, the GOP incumbent.

Woods has served in his current role since winning election in 2014. He has touted his 30 years of K-12 education experience in his push for reelection and has advocated for expanding teacher raises, as well as reducing standardized testing as a means of student and educator performance evaluation.

Down-Ballot Measures

Voters in metro Atlanta and the state also must decide several key down-ballot issues that will impact their local communities. 

Atlanta residents will vote Tuesday on whether to extend hours for the sale of packaged alcoholic beverages on Sundays. (Getty Images)

Georgia citizens will vote on whether to add a pair of amendments to the state’s constitution. They also must choose if they want to adopt or reject an additional set of statewide ballot measures. 

Atlanta residents will determine whether they want to extend hours for the sale of packaged alcoholic beverages on Sundays. Additional regional issues are on the ballot in Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Gwinnett, and Clayton counties.

For a comprehensive list of metro Atlanta issues on the ballot, click here.