The conversation surrounding redistricting, voters’ rights and electoral politics has to start with everyone being honest about what’s happening across America.
That sentiment was at the heart of the message Nsé Ufot, chief executive officer of the New Georgia Project which registered 425,000 Georgia voters during the lead up to the 2020 Presidential Election, shared with a gathering of 20 to 30 area residents on Oct. 8 at The Battleground Taproom and Mexican Restaurant in Kent.
“I think we are at a critical juncture for American Democrats,” Ufot said. “The threat is literally inside the house. I think Republicans have been able to frame the fight for voting rights as a partisan fight.”
Battleground co-owner Kirk Noden welcomed Ufot and the guests to the outdoor event. .
Kent resident and former State Rep. Kathleen Clyde, an active voter rights advocate during her time in the legislature, interviewed Ufot during the event.
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Ohio Republicans in the state legislature are considering a bill that would restrict voting rights by limiting accepted identification to a driver’s license, state identification card or passport. It would also prohibit ballots returned via a dropbox from counting and limit mail-in voting to those with physical disabilities or illnesses, those who are out of the state for the entire voting period and those who are incarcerated.
Republicans backing the bill contend those measures would limit alleged election fraud, which Republican Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said is “very rare.”
Ufot said these types of proposals are attempts to disenfranchise voters.
“We don’t even have honest conversations about what we are seeing,” she said. “You are absolutely seeing elected officials participating in treason.”
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The openness with which these measures are being taken is disorienting to voters’ rights advocates, she added.
However, she said it is not the New Georgia Project’s goal to elect Democrats.
“There’s a clarity I have about that and our team has about that, and it’s worked its way into all our messages,” she said.
In Georgia, she said, there was a point at which there were 1.2 million African Americans, minorities and single white women unregistered to vote.
“The successful Republicans were beating the losing Democrats by 200,000 to 300,000 votes, and we knew there more than a million people of color who weren’t participating in elections at all.”
Voter registration tips
A group interested in replicating the New Georgia Project’s work in voter registration needs to start by listening, Ufot said.
“You have twice as many ears as you have mouths,” she said. “You should be listening.”
She also said another technique that worked in Georgia was having regular meetings.
“One of the reasons I think AA works really well is that you know every Tuesday at 7 p.m. there’s going to be cookies and juice, and there’s going to be a meeting,” said Ufot. “We wanted to create that kind of a presence as an organization in the communities we serve.”
She said she had to make an effort to get to understand different groups within communities, as well.
For example, working with young adults from Gen Z, she learned there are some changes technology has brought about that may cause disconnects with older people.
“You recognize that have questions about where to buy a stamp,” she said, explaining they’ve never had much reason to visit a post office.
Voting registration groups have to know their communities inside and out, otherwise they’ll miss the opportunities to knock down barriers to getting registered to vote and actually getting to the polls.
“Make sure there’s no daylight between you and the community you’re organizing,” she said. “Think about your time, your talent and your treasures, and give what you can give.”
She said one of the most important parts of the job in 2021 is confronting the reality of the crop of new voting laws Republicans are proposing, they say to reduce fraud.
Ufot said those efforts are actually voter suppression efforts.
She also said it’s difficult to know how to approach people when they back the lie that former President Donald Trump had the election stolen from him.
“We’re still going through another audit of the 2020 election,” said Ufot. “This is 100% about shaking people’s faith and preparing for the 2022 midterms and for Trump ’24. They’re playing 3D chess, and we’re picking boogers out of our noses. You cannot fix what you have not faced. We are not even talking honestly about how our elections are being attacked.”
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