ACLU of Georgia

Check-in Call Leads to Hand Delivery of Voter Ballot to Hospital Bed

Ailing activist was determined to vote in senate runoff election

by Jerzy Shedlock

Despite being told otherwise, Kim Davis was adamant she needed to cast a vote from her hospital bed in the runoff election for the U.S. Senate.

On Election Day, Davis was recovering from major surgery in a Savannah hospital. Unfortunately, she’d also tested positive for COVID-19. She started her attempt during the early voting window, but Chatham County elections officials said they were swamped due to the shortened runoff cycle. They also told her it was too risky for county staff to drop off her ballot. She wasn’t taking no for an answer.

“I wanted to exercise my right to vote. There are so many politicians in positions of power right now who don’t work for the people. If politicians aren’t doing what we need them to do, then they need to be removed. If candidates aren’t for the people, they need to be defeated. I felt that Herschel Walker was not going to do what was right for the people,” Davis said.

From left to right, Cherrell Brown, ACLU of Georgia Community Engagement Manager, and Kim Davis, death penalty abolitionist and sister of Troy Anthony Davis, who was executed by the state of Georgia in September 2011. (Photo courtesy of Cherrell Brown)

Davis is the sister of Troy Anthony Davis, who was executed by the state of Georgia in September 2011. He was killed for the murder of a police officer, a crime he always maintained he did not commit. People worldwide urged Georgia to reconsider in light of the serious doubts about his guilt, including that seven out of nine witnesses recanted their testimony against him. He told the world the fight for justice would not end with his death. His sister began working to realize his vision.

Kim Davis continues the legacy of her brother. Over the past decade, she’s been involved in initiatives to repeal state-level death penalty laws, visited colleges to educate students about the issue, and has raised awareness about the impact that capital punishment has, not just on the wrongfully condemned, but on family, friends, and even guards and prison officials.

Davis’ opportunity to vote was down to the wire on Election Day, but thanks to ACLU of Georgia staff and a Chatham County deputy registrar, all of whom jumped into action, she was able to cast her ballot.

ACLU of Georgia Community Engagement Manager Cherrell Brown had reached out to Davis before heading to Savannah as part of a statewide get-out-the-vote tour. Brown has known Davis for years, because of the work she’s done around anti-death penalty advocacy. She learned about Davis’ surgery and her worry about being unable to vote. 

“Kim Davis is a fighter. She’s not going to take no for an answer, especially when it seems wrong,” Brown said.

Wanting to help, Brown contacted her colleagues in the legal department. Caitlin May, ACLU of Georgia voting rights attorney, quickly researched and consulted Rahul Garabadu, senior voting rights staff attorney. They agreed that a deputy registrar needed to deliver Davis her ballot, but when they called Chatham County, things were very hectic. 

The attorneys were continuing to discuss Davis’ options when Chatham County Deputy Registrar Colin McRae called, said he’d heard about the issue, and would be happy to take the ballot himself.

“We’re all so pleased that Ms. Davis was able to exercise her fundamental right to vote, even while sick,” said May. “Sickness should not cancel out someone’s right to participate fully in our electoral system, and we’re thankful for dedicated civil servants like Mr. McRae for going the extra mile to work toward a time when every resident of his county who wants to cast a ballot is able to do so.”

On The Runoff Tour

Staff with the ACLU of Georgia hit the road on the weekend before Election Day, visiting Columbus, Albany, Savannah, Augusta, and Atlanta during the On The Runoff Tour. The idea came to fruition when it was certain there would be a runoff. The senior director of national organizing for When We All Vote, a national nonpartisan voting initiative, reached out about mobilizing voters for the runoff. ACLU of Georgia’s Deputy Political and Advocacy Director Fallon McClure and our partners planned a statewide trip and block parties alongside Black Bikers Vote.

McClure said one focus of the tour was to target a certain demographic: people who voted in Georgia’s 2020 runoff but, according to data, sat out this year’s general election. Turnout was low for the general election in the communities visited during the tour, she said. 

“We were essentially trying to appeal to people who didn’t vote, so we thought, what can we do differently? We decided that we didn’t want to follow the familiar line of messaging: ‘You have to vote because democracy depends on it,’ because that messaging clearly wasn’t resonating in some areas. So, our tour was all about Black joy and giving back to these communities,” McClure said.

Partnerships with organizations in the cities that were visited were another priority. By approaching the tour in a more grassroots way, the ACLU of Georgia served people most impacted by issues we tackle. Staff shared resources, championed some of our main issues, and made connections.

McClure noted the response to the tour was overwhelmingly positive. The turnout was great, and organizers encouraged voting with celebration, rather than officials simply speaking behind podiums. In Albany, the tour made its pit stop adjacent to low income housing, in an effort to make the event as accessible as possible to residents who may not otherwise attend. When the Black Voters Matter bus and Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream van arrived, CEO and President of Albany Voter’s Coalition Delinda Bryant was nearly brought to tears, McClure recalled. 

“She does a lot of things to support her community on her own and has been doing it on her own for a long time. Having support and resources from others, it just meant so much to her,” McClure said.

Brown’s connection to Davis ensured Davis’ voice was heard this election cycle.

“I fought for my vote, because fighting for basic rights and positive change is what Troy wanted before he was killed, and he wanted his family to continue that work after he was gone,” Davis said.

Jerzy Shedlock (he/him) is a communications strategist at the ACLU of Georgia.