Trump indictment spotlights Georgia voting rights movement, activists say

The Fulton County indictment is Trump's fourth.

August 22, 2023, 4:47 PM

As the 2024 election draws near, voting rights advocates are taking lessons from the 2020 elections to safeguard the rights of voters in areas like Fulton County, Georgia, where former President Donald Trump was indicted for alleged efforts to overturn the results of the last presidential election.

Trump and others were indicted under Georgia's racketeering law, or RICO, related to alleged efforts to overturn 2020 election results in the state.

This includes, among other claims, allegedly conspiring to cast false Electoral College votes, and making false statements concerning voting fraud. Trump's campaign responded to the charges by calling them "un-American" and "wrong." He has denied all wrongdoing.

Advocates say the indictment signals progress in a state that has become central to the voting rights fight, but the battle continues in efforts to expand access to voting for residents.

"This moment is important because it means that there's no place for this behavior in our democracy and that people will be held accountable for their actions,” said Cianti Stewart-Reid, the executive director of voting rights advocacy group Fair Fight.

"They have the right to have their voices heard in every election and that's the work that we will continue to do at Fair Fight," she continued.

PHOTO: Fulton County voter Sharron Lee casts her ballot at the Metropolitan Library, Nov. 3, 2020 in Atlanta.
Fulton County voter Sharron Lee casts her ballot at the Metropolitan Library, Nov. 3, 2020 in Atlanta.
Jessica Mcgowan/Getty Images

Georgia used to be a Republican stronghold during elections -- in 2016, Trump won the state by more than 200,000 votes. However, in recent years, Georgia has solidified itself as a swing state following the election of Democrats like President Joe Biden, and Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

"[Trump] really couldn't believe that Georgia had flipped," Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, told ABC News. "What I've been told by Republican consultants is that they were telling the Trump campaign, in the summer and fall of 2020, 'don't just assume Georgia is in the bank for Republicans' and 'this is a different state that has become much more competitive.' And what they tell me is their message was not getting through."

Simultaneously, Georgia has become the epicenter of the fight for voting rights due to a grassroots push what voting rights activists call against suppressive voting laws and a concerted effort to get residents of color registered and to the polls.

"Georgia has consistently been kind of a focal point in American politics where power is concerned," said Kendra Davenport Cotton, the CEO of voting rights group New Georgia Project Action Fund.

A primary election in Georgia in June of 2020 was plagued with problems -- long lines, worker shortages, delayed poll openings and voting machines issues -- which highlighted longstanding difficulties in the state.

For the presidential election in 2020, "we left no stone unturned," said Cotton.

"We knocked on over 2 million doors. We were able to mobilize our groups, get them out," she added.

Several groups say they helped register hundreds of thousands of Georgians to vote in recent years to combat election practices they call suppressive.

Fair Fight founder Stacey Abrams is often credited with Democrats' electoral successes in 2020, becoming a major voting rights figure. She unsuccessfully campaigned twice as the Democratic nominee for Georgia governor.

Georgia voted in favor of now-President Joe Biden. He won by nearly 12,000 votes.

PHOTO: FILE - Former President Donald Trump waves as he steps off his plane at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Aug. 3, 2023, in Arlington, Va.
Former President Donald Trump waves as he steps off his plane at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Aug. 3, 2023, in Arlington, Va.
Alex Brandon/AP, FILE

"It is no coincidence that after a multiracial, multigenerational coalition of voters and advocates came together in 2020 to win the election, that there has been such incredible pushback and attack on those efforts to expand access to the ballot," said Stewart-Reid.

Black, Latino and Asian American voters have been key to Georgia’s registered voter growth since 2016, according to the Pew Research Center.

Fulton County is 45% Black, 38% white, 8% Asian and 7% Hispanic or Latino, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

Looking forward to 2024, Georgia is likely to be the center of contention once again, as politicians fight to win the votes of millions. With the passage and implementation of SB 202, a sweeping elections bill that overhauled local election laws, activists and experts say all eyes are on the next election.

"Georgia voted for several Democrats -- Joe Biden, Jon Ossoff and they voted for Raphael Warnock twice. Does that make Georgia a blue state? Absolutely not," Bullock said.

As these voting rights battles continue on the ground, advocates say the indictment gives a stronger sense of confidence in ensuring voters are heard in elections.

"Ultimately, this is not a story just about Donald Trump. It's about the people whose vote he was trying to undermine, the millions of Georgians who waited in long lines and showed up to the polls to cast their ballot and have their voices heard," Stewart-Reid said.