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Democrats Rally the Troops as Athens Voters Line Up in Droves

Jonathan Wallace speaks at a rally organized by fellow Democratic candidate Mokah Johnson (center) Saturday at the Arch. Credit: Blake Aued

About 200 people attended a fiery rally Saturday in support of Mokah Johnson and other local Democratic candidates as hundreds of voters waited in line for hours to cast their ballots.

Johnson organized the rally at the Arch after several hecklers disrupted an online candidate forum Monday to hurl racial slurs and other insults at her.

Johnson—who is running for the House District 117 seat against state Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens)—said she was so distraught by the attack that she nearly left the forum, but then realized that if she did, the racists would win. What’s more painful than hearing the slurs, she added, are issues like mass incarceration and lack of access to health care.

“Racism is not just the n-word,” said her campaign manager, Aditya Krishnaswamy. “It’s all the actions [Gaines has] done since he’s been in office,” such as opposing hate-crimes legislation. Gaines voted against the bill in 2019 before reversing his position in 2020.

Johnson credited House District 119 candidate Jonathan Wallace for standing up for her after the forum. Wallace said he became aware of systemic racism while running for the House in 2017 along with Deborah Gonzalez—races they won before losing those seats in 2018. He urged white allies to speak out against racism and amplify the voices of minorities.

“The hate is easiest to see when it’s out in the open,” Wallace said. “But the worst is silence.”

This year, Gonzalez is running for district attorney, and she had harsh words for her main opponent, acting DA Brian Patterson, who has criticized her for lacking prosecutorial experience.

“If he wants to run on 18 years of experience, he needs to run on his record,” Gonzalez said. “And his record is shit.”

While Patterson, who is also running as a Democrat, has touted his involvement in criminal justice reform, like drug and mental health courts, under former DA Ken Mauldin, Gonzalez said that’s not nearly enough.

“In one memo, I can end cash bail, period,” she said. “In one policy, I can end the school-to-prison pipeline, period.”

Other speakers included congressional candidate Devin Pandy and Mayor Kelly Girtz, who urged the crowd to vote.

Elsewhere in the city, they were doing just that. Athens-Clarke County opened four additional voting sites on Saturday, and at least three were packed.

Voters reported lines of up to five hours at the ACC Tennis Center. Poll workers deployed additional poll pads, or tablets to check in voters, according to Jesse Evans, chair of the ACC Board of Elections, and by 3:30 p.m. the line had dwindled to a handful of people.

The Board of Elections office did not have much of a line Saturday afternoon, and Evans said the Miriam Moore Center also did not have a line. But the ACC Extension Office did have a long line, he said. The line at the ACC Library was also long but moving briskly.

Georgia is shattering records for early voting, with 2.5 million people casting their ballots as of Friday. That’s more than twice as many as this time in 2016. All in all, 2,052 people voted in Athens on Saturday.

Blake Aued

As a general rule, high turnout tends to benefit Democrats. It remains to be seen if that will hold true this year, but at least in Athens, signs point to yes.

A small caravan of Donald Trump supporters passed by the rally at the Arch shortly after noon. They were headed for a Republican “Athens for America” rally at the Athens Fairgrounds. Later in the day, that event was nearly deserted, with no more than a couple dozen people in attendance an hour before it was scheduled to end.