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The results of the 2020 presidential and senate races will impact state and local politics, from health care and transportation to education funding and a possible COVID-19 stimulus package.

The outcomes of the 2020 election will determine the political landscape of Georgia and will reflect who Athens voters believe will best address the issues that matter to them.

The races on the ballot include a presidential race and two Georgia senate seats up for grabs. It’s an election that 38-year-old Athens-Clarke County District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson called the most important in his lifetime. 

“What happens here on the local level is totally tied to what’s happening at the federal level, and vice versa."

- Tim Denson, ACC District 5 commissioner

This year’s election is especially crucial to Georgians and the city of Athens. These races could turn the state from red to purple — or blue.

“It’s more unpredictable than ever,” said ACC District 6 commission candidate Chad Lowery. “That’d be a hard bet to make … how Georgia goes.” 

Historically, Georgia has stayed red since the 1970s, except for the presidential races of Southern Democrats Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, according to nonpartisan electoral mapping site 270 to Win. In 2016, President Donald Trump won by about 5% against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to tracking poll website FiveThirtyEight.

According to polling data collected by FiveThirtyEight on Oct. 19, former Vice President Joe Biden has a narrow lead over Trump in Georgia two weeks before Election Day. Yet if 2016 provided any insight into future races, it’s that polling data may not accurately reflect the final vote.

Lowery doesn’t disagree that this election could be the most important in his lifetime, but he said pundits and voters said the same thing in 2016. While voters on both sides of the aisle are fearful of the results, Lowery said he doesn’t think a president can ruin the country in four years.

“The polls sometimes, I don’t know if they’re skewed a different way, or how they’re figured,” Lowery said. “I really hope that whoever wins wins by a big margin so it’s not contested.”

With the two senate races, Georgia has the possibility of flipping the U.S. Senate majority. Democrats would need a net gain of four seats to win a majority over Republicans.

Senate incumbent David Perdue is favored to be reelected against Democrat Jon Ossoff, according to FiveThirtyEight, but the jungle primary to fill former Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term is a toss-up. Out of 21 candidates, only two will advance to a January 2021 runoff if no candidate wins with over 50% of the vote. 

Reasons for changing colors

Coupled with an increasing population and changing demographics, the state’s political ideology is fair game.

There are over 7.5 million Georgians registered to vote in the 2020 general election, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. These new voters will be decisive in determining what issues are prioritized in the next Congress and who voters want to see solving those issues.  

“What we can do and what happens here on the local level is totally tied to what’s happening at the federal level, and vice versa,” Denson said. “These things are all connected.”

As of Oct. 18, over 1.4 million Georgians have cast their ballots ahead of the Nov. 3 election, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. That’s a 156% increase in voter turnout compared to October 2016.

Georgia has been in the news because it’s “a big transition year,” Denson said.

“Georgia is a diverse, beautiful state. … But for so long it’s been thought of as a state, I think, that’s extremely white, white old male,” Denson said. “And that is not the Georgia that I know and that most people know.”

More underrepresented voters feel empowered to make their voices heard, Denson said, adding that diverse populations and demographics want elected officials who represent and look like them.

Issues in play

Federal policies on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, education funding and the census count all trickle down and directly influence local outcomes, Denson said. The Trump administration’s policy on DACA has created a “xenophobic and dangerous” situation for Athens, Denson said. Changing that policy at the federal level would make a better situation locally.

On Oct. 13, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to end the 2020 U.S. Census count early after the Trump administration asked the court to suspend it so that results could be tabulated by the end of the year. 

The census directly affects funding for Athens schools, health care, public transportation programs and other critical infrastructure. Denson said the decision “will have a detrimental effect on the amount of funding and representation we have here in Athens-Clarke County.”

Both Denson and Lowery also want federal and state officials to work together to come up with a stimulus package to help their constituents deal with the fallout from COVID-19. 

Lowery emphasized the need for collaboration and understanding from politicians in Congress on both sides. He said they should learn how to accept each other’s differences in order to help struggling Athenians. 

Voters have become more emotionally invested in their politics, Lowery said. If his choices lose, he said he’ll get up the next day and focus on what to do for the next election.

Denson agreed that elections are just one aspect of political activism. The ultimate goal, he said, is to change the mindset of the community. An electoral victory isn’t just something to achieve and be done with.

“It’s an ongoing struggle,” Denson said. “Staying involved and engaged is a constant effort.”