Joe Biden heads to Georgia on Tuesday in a last-ditch effort to vote in the deep southern Peach State, which has emerged – for the first time in decades – as a campaign battleground.
If the Democrats win here, it likely signals doom for Donald Trump’s re-election bid.
The country has already broken all previous records for early voting with an explosion of polling enthusiasm never before seen here.
But voting fever has been accompanied by mounting allegations of voter suppression and other tactics to try to alter the outcome in a region where the black vote is seen as potentially decisive.
Long lines of voters queued up daily to cast their ballots, with some waiting 11 hours on October 12, the first day of the early vote.
“A lot of intimidation has happened in Georgia,” says Vinica Miller of the campaign group Black Voters Matter.
“People seem to have a problem with blacks who exercise their right, as if we do not belong. We know that voter suppression and intimidation is as old as the American pie.”
The mounting tension may be that after decades of voting hard red, the race in Georgia is now very close to calling – and the latest polls suggest the candidates are fickle.
Huge billboards in Downtown Atlanta urge people to vote and vote early.
Giant colorful murals urge residents to voice their views on what many consider the most important elections in their lives. Even ATMs carry messages to cast your vote.
“I will not vote for a president,” an elderly woman told us as she walked around the polling station in Cobb County. “I vote to direct the president.”
The tight race is due to countless reasons. The first and perhaps the most fundamental is the changing demographics of the state capital, Atlanta.
Over the past few years, there has been an upsurge in the number of black, Latino, and Spanish workers gravitating to the city.
Many are believed to be more likely to vote Democrats. Those we spoke to mentioned that what they see as Donald Trump’s racist policies was the main motivation for voting against him.
Police brutality and the disproportionately large number of black Americans killed by the police – across the country as well as in Georgia – appears to have stimulated black voices, especially among young people.
The president’s reluctance to condemn white supremacists is seen as divisive and many clearly feel threatened.
We saw many heavily armed men wearing bulletproof armor and carrying weapons marching alongside a group of mostly young voters on their way to vote at the City’s State Farm Arena. They shouted, “Vote! Vote! Vote! Vote!”
One of the weapons bearers told us, “You never know when an attack will come … You never know who … or where it will come from.”
Among the participants in the march was 22-year-old Destiny Brett.
“We are literally voting for our lives,” she said.
“If the president says that the people who are directly fighting to kill black people are good people … I don’t know what makes you feel fear for your life … I am fighting for my life, the lives of my children, and other generations.”
Team Sky in Georgia spent the past few days visiting several early polling stations and found that the vast majority were extremely skeptical about the long lines and the difficulties of casting their ballots.
In Marietta, north of Atlanta, many spoke of their concerns about the three-hour wait.
“The voter suppression continues and there are various ways governments are now trying to suppress voting,” Curtis Cheeks told us.
“Among them are long queues preventing people from voting.”
In the offices of the Black Voters Matter Group, in Warner Robins, their organization, Fenika Miller, told a crowd of volunteers that they have to find new energy reserves to attract as many potential voters as possible for the entire past week.
“We really need to do one last shove, a big push, right?” I pleaded with them.
I sent volunteers in two and three groups for “safety reasons”. We weren’t in the campaign long before we saw why.
“He just asked us to get out of his neighborhood,” said Takria Matisse, pointing to a white bare-chested man a short distance away on the same street.
Do you feel afraid because we asked her, “No,” she answered with a smile.
Are you feeling anxious? “No.” Are you feeling angry? “No.” how do you feel? She said “strength” – without missing a beat.
Georgia is not completely unfamiliar with allegations of voter suppression.
They remember what happened in 2018 as it did last week. Then they saw that the Democratic challenger for Governor, Stacy Abrams, was losing nearly 50,000 votes in a highly contested ballot, many of whom, including Abrams, felt “stolen.”
Many voters at that time complained about waiting too long. Many surrendered or stayed at home, and others complained of being removed from the electoral lists.
In the primaries in June, there were complaints about the failure of new electronic voting machines.
Doubts seem to have aroused voters even more, and there has been a massive concerted effort to try to engage with millennials and Generation Z voters.
By early accounts, it appears to have worked.
Early voting among Georgians under the age of 40 is believed to be more than three times as high as in 2016, with some 600,000 voters already casting their ballots.
Madison Myers, first-time voter, waited more than two hours to vote in Marietta: “I’m really surprised that I stayed in line because when I was finally, in the back of it, I just wanted to get back in my car.”
He told us the main motive was trying to kick Donald Trump out.
“It’s not really about his politics,” the 18-year-old told us. “I just hate the man and what he represents.”
He stressed that the incentive to vote among his group of fresh school graduates was very high: “We all write to each other, and we say you should vote.”
But President Trump still maintains popularity in Atlanta’s whiter suburbs, making it the closest presidential race here in decades. While there are troublesome problems and voting lines increase as the countdown to Election Day begins, doubts about the vote are also likely to grow.
Jeezy, one of the city’s most popular rappers, cast his vote publicly at the State Farm Arena polling station. He told Sky News: “It will probably be one of the most important elections ever, if you are honest.”
“There’s a lot at stake and we need some change. We have to go out here and let our voices be heard, that’s why we’re here.”
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