Black church tradition survives voting changes in Georgia

Black church leaders in Georgia held rallies on Sunday in a bid to get their congregants to vote – a longstanding tradition known as ‘souls to the polls’ that takes on more meaning this year amid new hurdles to vote in the midterm elections.

State lawmakers nearly abolished Sunday voting under a bill signed into law last year. The Republican-sponsored legislation follows former President Donald Trump’s false claims that voter fraud cost him his re-election in 2020.

Although lawmakers reversed the ban on Sunday voting, the bill shortened the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot, reversed the expansion of ballot boxes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reduced early voting before the second round of elections and prohibited groups from distributing food and water. to online voters.

Republicans said Georgia’s new law was needed to restore confidence in the state’s electoral system. Civil rights advocates saw it as an attack on black voters, who helped Democrats win the 2020 presidential race in Georgia for the first time since 1992 and later take the state’s two U.S. Senate seats. . They push back by redoubling their efforts to train black voters.

Sunday’s scheduled ‘souls to the polls’ events include a caravan organized by church leaders and civil rights groups to take worshipers from the Atlanta-area Rainbow Park Baptist Church to a shopping mall where they can vote early. US Senator Raphael Warnock, pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, also planned to hold a rally to get church members to vote on the last Sunday of the early voting period.

“Souls at the Polls” reflects the central role of the black church in the fight for justice and freedom in the United States, said W. Franklyn Richardson, chairman of the board of the National Conference of Black Churches.

Richardson said efforts like this are especially critical in this election cycle.

“It is the cumulative achievement of our people who are challenged and threatened that makes this election so urgent,” he said.

The idea of ​​“souls at the ballot box” goes back to the civil rights movement. Reverend George Lee, a black entrepreneur from Mississippi, was murdered by white supremacists in 1955 after helping nearly 100 black residents register to vote in the town of Belzoni.

It reflects a greater effort by the black community to leverage the church for the vote, said Dartmouth history professor Matthew Delmont.

In addition to motivating potential voters, pastors provide the “logistical support to get people straight from the church service to vote,” he said.

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Fields reported in Washington.

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