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Vote counts from John Lewis’s district came in — and then Georgia tipped to Biden

The legacy of the the late civil rights icon and voting rights advocate lives on through the presidential election.

Stacy Abrams attends the funeral service for the late Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 30.
Alyssa Pointer/Getty Images
Fabiola Cineas covers race and policy as a reporter for Vox. Before that, she was an editor and writer at Philadelphia magazine, where she covered business, tech, and the local economy.

Georgia could possibly back a Democratic candidate for the first time since electing Bill Clinton in 1992 — and a Joe Biden and Kamala Harris victory in the state will be due in part to Clayton County, part of the district that the late US representative and civil rights icon John Lewis represented.

On Friday morning, as absentee ballots continued to be counted, Joe Biden took the lead in Georgia by fewer than 1,000 votes. This came after Clayton County officials worked through the night to count ballots and tally vote totals, 11alive reported. But due to the slim margin, a winner has not yet been declared in Georgia.

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the south metro area county of nearly 300,000 people is sometimes overlooked but is “the most Democratic county in Georgia, even surpassing the deep-blue bastion of DeKalb in its vote percentage.”

In January 2017, just before Donald Trump took office, he took aim at Lewis and the Fifth Congressional District, saying it is “in horrible shape and falling apart” and “crime infested.”

Lewis became a fierce critic of Donald Trump from the moment he won the presidency in 2016, saying he did not see Trump as a “legitimate president” due to Russian interference in the election. Lewis said it was the first time he did not attend the presidential inauguration in 30 years. Throughout Trump’s presidency, Lewis called him “a racist” in 2018 after Trump called Haiti and other countries “shitholes.” “We have come so far. We made so much progress,” Lewis said. “And I think this man, this president, is taking us back to another place.” Trump tweeted that he and the First Lady were saddened by John Lewis’s death but did not pay his respects at the funeral in Atlanta.

So it is symbolic that while all votes in Georgia were submitted by Election Day, it was the counting of votes in Clayton in the early hours of November 6 that tipped the state away from Trump and to Biden.

Lewis, who died in July at age 80, has long been celebrated for his legacy of “good trouble” (law enforcement nearly beat him to death with clubs during a voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama) and his commitment to voting rights. Lewis’ activism helped the government enact the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Though a portion of the act was invalidated in 2013 by a Supreme Court decision, allowing voter disenfranchisement problems to remain, he still pushed for new voting rights legislation recognizing that the fight was far from over.

“My dear friends: Your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union,” Lewis said in a speech in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2012.

Georgia has taken center stage in the election since the traditionally Republican Southern state has been changing demographically due to growth in the Atlanta metro area. As Vox’s Ella Nilsen reported, “just 5 percentage points — or about 211,000 votes — separated Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the 2016 election. In 2018, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams came within less than 55,000 votes of winning the governor’s mansion.” The shift is due to “diverse Democratic urban and suburban voters, who are becoming more reliably Democratic with time,” bringing Democrats “closer and closer to getting 50 percent.”

Turnout is also due to the grassroots efforts of voting rights organizations like Fair Fight led by Stacey Abrams and Lauren Groh-Wargo, ProGeorgia led by Tamieka Atkins, New Georgia Project led by Nsé Ufot, and Fair Count led by Rebecca DeHart that registered hundreds of thousands of new voters in the state. The state hit record registration levels at 7.6 million registered voters. One report found that there was a surge in turnout among Black voters in the Georgia primary election in June following protests for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.

On Friday, Democratic leaders celebrated that it was Lewis’s district that tipped the state toward Biden overnight. “John Lewis is smiling,” Rep. Ted Lieu tweeted. Hillary Clinton also tweeted: “He would be proud today.”

Democratic Senate nominee Jon Ossoff, who will challenge Republican incumbent Senator David Perdue in a runoff election in January, praised Lewis’s legacy in a speech on Friday.

“When Congressman Lewis marched across that bridge 55 years ago to demand the sacred right to vote for all Americans, it was so that we the people could decide who represents us,” Ossoff said. “So we could have moments like this one, where Georgians in their millions have said enough. Change has come to Georgia, change has come to America.”