GRAYSON, Georgia—When Muriel MacDonald walked through a subdivision in this Atlanta suburb on Monday evening, she was a familiar sight to residents—yet another person showing up on their doorsteps to remind them to vote in the Senate runoff election.
MacDonald, a volunteer organizer with the progressive advocacy group Seed the Vote, noticed on her canvassing app that a few members of the Tubbs household hadn’t voted. When she knocked on the door of a home on a quiet cul-de-sac, the family patriarch appeared—and then politely vented about the steady stream of well-meaning canvassers knocking on his door all day.
“We get it!” said the man. “Nothing against you all, personally. We’re good. We know what we need to do.”
That scene was repeated around the neighborhood. When MacDonald’s colleague, Hannah Bauman, knocked on the door of a stately home a few blocks away, a voice materialized out of a virtual doorbell to ask: “Are you from one of the 50 organizations that’s been here 50 times?”
Bauman explained to the woman that her voter file showed the address was home to a person who hadn’t yet voted. The woman on the other end, though annoyed, promised that she’d remind them to show up on Tuesday.
But if the voters in Grayson felt a little smothered by the attention, it meant the canvassers were doing their jobs. Over the past two months, Democrats have knocked on millions of doors around the state in an effort to win Georgia’s pair of runoff elections and take control of the U.S. Senate.
In order to reach the millions of voters needed to be successful, Democrats have had to reintegrate traditional campaigning methods like door knocking—which they largely eschewed this year because of the pandemic—into a strategy that had, at least until Nov. 3, been mostly conducted online and over the phone.
On Monday, a leader in the canvassing effort—the advocacy group New Georgia Project, which was founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams—knocked on its two-millionth door in the state, according to executive director Nse Ufot. Ahead of the November election, they had only knocked on 400,000 doors.
Ufot told The Daily Beast that the scope of this effort in Georgia is unprecedented for progressives—especially with respect to which constituencies the efforts are targeting. “People haven’t paid this attention to voters of color, young voters, not ever—not with this sophistication,” she said.
Many Democrats in Georgia agree with that sentiment—and believe that an effort of unprecedented scale is what is needed in order to overcome the party’s poor record in runoffs and capture both Senate seats. On Tuesday, they will find out if the investment paid off.
Already, there’s promising signs for the Democratic candidates, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. According to data from the two-week early voting period, which ran from Dec. 14 to 31, early voting rates among Black voters and young voters were higher compared to the November election. Over 3 million Georgians have already voted, and Democrats are hoping an eleventh-hour burst of canvassing will ensure that many of their remaining voters make it to the polls on Tuesday.
In addition to the two campaigns, and the Georgia Democratic Party, a constellation of outside groups have mobilized to boost Democratic turnout—from national labor unions to homegrown Georgia groups like the New Georgia Project.
On Dec. 28, the Ossoff campaign announced that a “volunteer army” had made more than 5 million calls and sent 4 million texts during the runoff campaign. They have also held several canvass-launch events around the state since early voting ended. On Monday afternoon, Ossoff joined one in Rockdale County, a heavily Democratic portion of the Atlanta metro area, and nodded to the many years of work that the party has done to build an organizing apparatus and make itself competitive in Georgia.
“It's a continuation of the work that's been done for the last decade—the work led by Stacey Abrams, the work led by so many activists and volunteers who have registered voters and mobilized communities and given voice to those who were ignored and on the margins,” said Ossoff to a crowd of volunteers in a Conyers, Georgia, parking lot.
Georgia Democrats have also tailored their outreach efforts to the state’s changing demographics. Latino and Asian American voters showed up in historic numbers for the general election in Georgia, and many believe they helped power Joe Biden’s win in the state.
For the runoff campaign, Asian American leaders within the party redoubled their efforts to reach voters in their native languages. In parts of suburban Atlanta with large immigrant populations, they’re sending volunteers to speak at the doors in Chinese, Korean, Hindi, Urdu, and Vietnamese; their campaign fliers are translated into five different languages.
“That shit matters,” said Linh Nguyen, the Asian American Pacific Islander coalitions director for the Georgia Democratic Party. On Saturday, she was organizing a launch for volunteers targeting Asian American voters in Alpharetta, a northern suburb of Atlanta. “Making sure we’re able to effectively communicate our messaging, in language—it hasn’t really seen its full potential,” she said.
Everyone acknowledges that the enormous amounts of money raised by Democrats have helped—a lot. Both the Warnock and Ossoff campaigns raised over $100 million each, and donations have flowed to groups doing on-the-ground organizing.
Nabilah Islam, a progressive organizer who has been canvassing with Save Our Senate, a group she founded to boost Warnock and Ossoff, said these efforts have been funded “to the max” for the runoff campaign.
“I’ve never seen this before,” said Islam, of the level of investment and organizing from Georgia Democrats. “I’m really, really proud.”
Republicans—themselves well-funded—have been active in organizing, too, doing the same kinds of calling and door-knocking campaigns as Democrats. The Georgia GOP didn’t respond to an inquiry about the scale of their efforts. But outside groups are involved, like the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, which says it has reached 800,00 Georgia voters in their homes to urge support for Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.
For their part, Democrats brush off any suggestions their efforts might have diminishing returns, or that they’ve reached a saturation point. Ufot said she saw all the activity as a “force multiplier,” even if there might be “some annoyance” among voters.
“I don't think Georgia as at the place where there's oversaturation or redundancy,” she said.
And the canvassers in Grayson with Seed the Vote did—at least at a handful of homes—manage to impart some new information to exhausted Georgians about the election ahead. At one home, Bauman opened a conversation by acknowledging “You’re probably sick of this.” A woman peering through a crack in the door responded with a question—asking if her family could vote in person on Tuesday if they’d already received their absentee ballots. Bauman informed her they could.
“And you know how important this election is?” Bauman asked. The woman replied that, in fact, she did.