San Francisco Attorney Magazine

Winter 2021

The New Georgia Project: Fighting Voter Suppression 

Nsé Ufot & Yolanda Jackson Discuss How the Voting Rights of People of Color are Under Attack

By Arshpreet Multani



Photography by Lynsey Weatherspoon, TIME

The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) hosted The New Georgia Project on Oct. 26, where viewers joined in on a conversation about the relationship between voting and race, and how voting rights are currently under attack. As part of BASF Board President Marvin Anderson’s racial justice series, BASF’s Executive Director and General Counsel Yolanda Jackson sat down with New Georgia Project’s Chief Executive Officer Nsé Ufot. NGP is a nonpartisan voter registration and voter education organization focused on registering people to vote and providing consultation to anyone who is looking to do large scale voter registration drives in their states.

Watch Ufot give a brief overview of NGP above.

NGP was founded in 2014 by Stacey Abrams who envisioned making voting equally accessible for all. Having helped almost 600,000 people of color register to vote in Georgia, NGP is best known for its large-scale voter registration efforts. They aim to change the culture of voting and democracy by amplifying the voices of the ignored and building power among underrepresented communities. At the organization’s core is an aggressive research agenda: they run focus groups, polls, and attempt to understand what is at the forefront of Georgian’s minds. This research helps to design strong campaigns that inspire the public to act. “We have our finger on the pulse of the people’s priorities at all times,” said Ufot.

Learn how NGP used video games to increase voter registrations among 17 year olds.

The organization led by Ufot is constantly trying to understand problems and find creative solutions that change the culture of voting. One technique used was the gamification of civic engagement, where they merged civil rights concepts with technology, specifically video games. “Video games popped up organically. One because of play as a learning tool, and two because of how powerful and how tightly knit the video game subculture is,” said Ufot. Discussions with high school counselors and parents about where children were building communities led to an event called “Twitch the Vote” where 17 year olds congregated to vote in their first election. In one day, NGP registered 9,000 young people to vote by using Twitch as an educational platform.

Although NGP made strong strides in increasing the number of voter registrations, they also warned viewers that the voting rights of people of color are aggressively under attack. Ufot asserts that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was gutted when Section 4 and Section 5 of the law were struck down. This attack is seen at the federal level, but also at the state level with the 400 anti-voting bills that were introduced in 48 out of 50 states. She claims that the primary concern for some Republicans and Conservatives is to make voting more difficult. “It’s their number one priority in advance of the 2022 midterms and 2024 presidential election, and we should all act accordingly,” urged Ufot. She also affirmed that “there should be no question at all that the focus on Georgia and places like Texas with these anti-voting bills is 1000% because of race, class, and gender, but it’s led by race… Something can be race neutral on its face and the impact is targeted at black folks and people of color in this country.”

Ufot discusses how and why the voting rights of people of color are under attack.

The new rounds of anti-voting laws being introduced have also resulted in the criminalization of voting and voting related behavior. “SB 202 in Georgia has created five new voting crimes, two felonies, and three misdemeanors. There are over 1,000 Georgians currently being investigated by the secretary of state and this commission that he’s put together for double voting.” NGP will need lawyers across the country who have expertise at the intersection of criminal defense law and voting rights law. The organization is also always looking for amplifiers and people who can lift up the good work that is happening. “Your time, your talent, or your treasure… What is it that you have to give at this moment to an organization or cause that you care deeply about?” said Ufot.

Despite the rise of anti-voting bills across the nation, the silver lining that should reignite hope in the public is that NGP feels encouraged to have found a message that will move people to action. “At a national level people think their right to vote is being taken, that their lives are being taken,” said Ufot, "and we are witnessing that Americans do not like their rights being taken from them." Ufot projected that this may result in historic levels of participation in the 2022 election from young sophisticated political actors.

Watch the Full Discussion with Nsé Ufot