Essay: I took a morning plane to Georgia to decide the U.S. Senate majority

Sharon Springs Community Building in Cumming, Georgia may be closer to baseball diamonds and football fields than museums or monuments, but it’s as much a part of American democracy as anything on Capitol Hill. This unassuming structure is my polling place, and I voted there on a breezy afternoon Friday for the fourth time in two years. Though its beige clapboard siding might pale in comparison to the marbled halls of Congress, my vote at Sharon Springs will help determine the future of U.S. politics – again.

Georgia’s elections have been on my mind this whole year. In October, I synchronized my fall break to come home to vote early in the November general election. But when incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-GA, received only 49.4 percent of the vote, just shy of a majority, he advanced to the runoff election on Dec. 6. with Republican and former NFL star Herschel Walker. Warnock, a preacher first and a progressive politician second, delivers sermons from the same pulpit where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once did. Walker, meanwhile, has political stances that range from the incomprehensible, like a bizarre monologue about cows at an October campaign event, to the reprehensible, like calling for election officials to be jailed in 2020.

Georgians no longer have the privilege to simply decide who best represents them, if they ever did. Instead, whom we elect might be the decisive vote for or against federal policy ranging from the right for LGBTQ+ people to marry to organized labor. Democrats will gain an additional seat in the Senate if Warnock wins, while a political touchdown by Walker would continue its 50-50 deadlock. A 51-49 Senate would theoretically grant Democrats more control over committee assignments, expedite judicial appointments and free them from conceding legislation to the most conservative members of their party, like Sens. Joe Manchin, D-WV, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-AZ.

Nor is this the first time that the Peach State’s mustn’t-be-too-hasty electoral process has taken on national import. After neither the Republican nor Democratic candidates won a majority in the November 2020 Senate race, Georgians elected Jon Ossoff, D-GA, and Warnock to the Senate in a January 2021 runoff election, handing Democrats the very majority they now hope to expand by reelecting Warnock. And Georgia’s 16 electoral votes that same year helped push President Biden over the finish line and into the White House

I voted in the 2020 general election. And the 2021 runoff. And the 2022 general election. And on Friday, I hopped on a morning plane to Georgia – it was back to Sharon Springs again.

I’ll be the first to admit that this was a pretty ludicrous and expensive decision. Mail-in and absentee voting exists for a reason, after all, but I’d rather not leave my ballot’s fate up to the mail and my search for stamps. So, I waited in line to vote for 40 minutes – which is hardly unusual in Georgia – to make sure my vote counted.

A bevy of slick ads, pleading emails and passionate mailers have sure made it feel like the future of democracy rests on my shoulders. My spam folder is a who’s who of Democratic headliners like Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, Sen.-elect John Fetterman, D-PA, strategist James Carville, President Joe Biden, Warnock himself and various iterations of Team DNC, DNC HQ and The Democrats. Won’t I help support Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, expand his majority? Do I want a signed poster from Joe Biden? This election will be a squeaker – we can’t take our foot off the gas now!

I and pretty much every Georgia voter have been mobilized to the maximum, deployed again and again to run up the margins. There have been six elections in two years in Georgia if you include primary races in 2020 and 2022. And after my last time at Sharon Springs, I’m feeling that the constant “battle for the soul of the nation” is taking its toll.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy to have helped make history in Georgia not once but twice. I’ll keep showing up for the candidates and causes I support with or without gimmicky fundraisers and mass email lists. And there’s certainly a sense of pride that comes with electing members of Congress and a president who can help steer both our state and our country in a better direction. But there’s only so much time and money you can donate to a campaign, and in my case, there are only so many flights to and from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. So when, if ever, can we take our foot off the gas?

Look, I think the idea that this is “the most important election in our lifetime” is tripe, cliché, hackneyed or whatever you want to call it. But it’s true that there likely won’t be an election that most people, whether in Georgia or other states can just tune out of in the near future. There will continue to be candidates here and elsewhere who demonize transgender people, subscribe to bizarre theories about our electoral process and just spout absolute nonsense about climate change – candidates who can and must be defeated. Schlepping back and forth to Sharon Springs every few months is my civic duty. What would happen if I didn’t fulfill it?

So long as Georgia – not Rhode Island, nor South Dakota nor Arkansas – gets to have an outsized influence over U.S. politics, I’m going to keep showing up. I’ll weave my way through a parking lot, fill out some paperwork and enter the voting booth. It may just be a polling place, but Sharon Springs Community Building is where I’ve seen democracy in action time and time again.

Ethan Benn, a junior majoring in journalism and mass communication, is the opinions editor.

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