The deadline to register to vote in the two Georgia Senate runoff elections has already passed, but Lehigh’s politically active students are ready to phone bank, donate money and do whatever they can to encourage voter turnout in Georgia.
The balance of power in the Senate for the first two years of President-elect Joe Biden’s first term rests on the outcome of these two elections, which will be held Jan. 5, 2021. Republicans currently hold a 50 to 48-member advantage in the Senate, meaning winning just one of the two races will guarantee Republicans a slim majority.
But two Democratic wins in the Peach State will grant them a majority, as Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would act as a tie-breaking vote. Two Democratic wins in Georgia would also guarantee unified government, given the slim Democratic majority in the House and a Democratic White House once Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20, 2021.
The runoffs are attracting national attention because the stakes are so high.
For some Lehigh students, it has been more difficult to get involved in these runoff elections if they are not from Georgia themselves.
“It’s different from anything I’ve done before,” said Garret Anderson, ‘21, secretary of the College Republicans. “I’ve worked elections pretty much my whole life, so it is a little weird because it is not in my state.”
Anderson said he has been donating money and phone banking occasionally to get involved in the election.
For conservative students who don’t want to see Biden enact certain policies, it’s important for the Republican Party to retain control of the Senate.
“If we maintain the Senate by just one seat, we can kind of get into Joe Biden’s way a little bit,” Anderson said.
On the other end, for more liberal students, winning the runoff election is critical for Biden to succeed in implementing his political and policy objectives. Georgia broke for Biden at the presidential level as the state certified its first Democratic victor for president since 1992, when President Bill Clinton captured Georgia’s electoral votes.
“If the Democrats don’t win in Georgia, then Joe Biden’s agenda will change heavily,” said Sam Denison, ‘24, a member of the College Democrats. “He won’t have the support, and things will be able to be blocked in the Senate.”
Denison has been phone banking for the runoff election. Denison, from New York, also feels disconnected from this election since he isn’t from Georgia.
“I’m struggling with whether I should get involved because I can’t talk to (voters) on a personal level,” Denison said. “I don’t have the same experiences as them because I’m not living with them in Georgia.”
He said he finds phone banking to be challenging since many people don’t pick up the phone and most people have already decided who they are going to vote for.
Denison said there’s only a few undecided votes and it’s difficult to convince them.
Others still find phone banking to be a worthwhile campaign tactic.
“A lot of people think you are only going to talk to five voters, but if 1,000 people phone bank on behalf of one candidate in a day, and they each talk to five different people, that’s a lot of people,” said Brian Lucas, ‘22, a member of the Student Political Action Coalition. “That might be the margin of error for the state.”
In addition to phone banking, the Student Political Action Coalition is focused on putting out social media content to encourage Georgians to vote.
Lucas said sharing information on social media is an effective way of sending out a message and is the easiest way to get people engaged in the election.
Through their social media content, the Student Political Action Coalition is striving to ensure that voters know the stakes of this election in less than a month.
“Keeping people aware of what the ramifications are for the Senate flipping one way or the other is a really important part,” Lucas said. “That is going to be the main takeaway of what the stuff we are going to post is going to look like.”
The Student Political Action Coalition is neutral in terms of supporting candidates and is instead focused on empowering students to get politically involved.
“I think if people want to support anybody in the Georgia runoff, I would be happy to hear that they are doing it,” Lucas said. “I think that’s the most important part of our democratic society.”