By Sam Bojarski
The weeks leading up to the Jan. 5 Georgia runoff election saw consistent get-out-the-vote efforts by local and national Haitian-American leaders. One of these leaders, Ronald Bertrand spent time calling family and friends encouraging them to vote.
Bertrand, of Marietta, also joined more than 3 million Georgians who voted early.
“This was one of the major elections, where it was important to reinstate decency in the government,” said Bertrand, 54, an architect who voted Democrat in the Senate races.
Bertrand said he wants to see a government that responds to the needs of all, regardless of income. “The government is tilted too much in terms of the gap between the haves and the have-nots,” he said.
On election night, the efforts of Bertrand and others appeared to be paying off as Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock emerged as clear favorites in their respective races against Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. On Jan. 6, the Associated Press declared Warnock the winner, with Ossoff leading his race. Democratic victories in both races mean the party would control the Senate for at least the first half of President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s term.
Frantz Bourget, of Atlanta, said he was excited to see the final results, after encouraging other Haitian-Americans to head to the polls.
“This new [incoming] administration is talking about all these issues that are close to us,” Bourget said, about the prospect of a Democratic victory. “That’s why we pushed to [ensure] there will not be any type of obstacles in the Senate.”
Since September, Bourget said he has encouraged people to vote through his weekly show on Radio Grace FM — focusing first on the general election, then on the Senate runoffs.
Bourget, 60, was also part of a coalition organized by the Georgia Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce and the Haitian-American Voter Empowerment (HAVE) Coalition, a national network of diaspora leaders.
The coalition organized virtual rally-the-vote events in December via its Georgia Haitian American Citizens Facebook page, along with an in-person rally Jan. 2.
Haitians in Georgia have voiced a diverse range of priorities, including protecting immigrants and advancing racial justice.
During the presidential campaign, Biden released a list of policy priorities for the Haitian community, which included a path to citizenship for long-time Temporary Protected Status holders, through legislative reform.
The prospect of immigration reform and expanding health care access were among the reasons Bourget said he voted early for the Democrats last month, in the Senate runoffs.
“The [coronavirus] pandemic has opened our eyes as far as how vulnerable our community is when it comes to health care,” Bourget said.
Going beyond the immediacy of the Jan. 5 election, the coalition headed by HAVE and the Chamber seeks to rally voters around a Haitian agenda and hold future elected representatives accountable to their promises. Efforts to mobilize eligible voters in a community of nearly 80,000 total people have taken on greater importance in a state where political races are decided by narrow margins.
The effort to push eligible voters to the polls in Georgia’s Haitian community looked promising, said Bertrand.
“I think there’s been a lot of support within the community, people calling each other to really push and make sure people go to the polls and vote,” Bertrand said.
“It’s not going to fade away,” he also said. “I would say watch out for the Haitian community, because we’re here.”