An influx of new citizens could influence the 2024 election in Georgia

Around 300 immigration advocates gather at gather for a phot on the North Steps of the State Capitol during their tenth annual New American Day on Tuesday, February 14, 2023. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Naturalized citizens in Georgia could have a huge impact on this year’s presidential election.

A new report from the national nonprofit American Immigration Council (AIC) analyzed the number of immigrants living in Georgia who are likely eligible to receive their citizenship. That number is higher than the number of votes that President Joe Biden received to win him the presidency in the state. 

“If you’re in a state where the election is very close between the two presidential candidates, that could tip easily,” said Steve Hubbard, a senior data scientist with AIC who worked on the report.

In Georgia, one out of every 10 people was born in another country. Currently, 7.4% of all eligible voters in the state are naturalized citizens. 

The report showed that 158,000 immigrants in Georgia are likely to be naturalized this year, making them U.S. citizens with the right to vote. The margin of victory in the 2020 presidential election was 11,779 votes.

Hubbard said the nonprofit did not analyze if immigrants tend to vote for one party over the other, but he said research found new citizens do vote because it is a way to show pride in being a new American. 

“The naturalization process is kind of an arduous process that takes a lot of persistence,” he said. “There’s lots of forms, an interview you have to complete, citizenship tests. We find that they are often very proud of that work and want to participate in the United States and its system of government.”

Georgia organizers know this. Throughout February, hundreds of people with dozens of organizations that support immigrants and refugees brought community members to the state capitol to teach them how to be civically engaged, from voting in elections to meeting with state officials to discussing bills. 

In early February, the Latino Community Fund and several Latino-serving institutions went to the capitol. These organizations serve families who have been in the U.S. for generations as well as those who have more recently immigrated. 

Nationally, 43.5% of immigrants eligible to naturalize this year speak Spanish, according to the AIC report. 

Jerry Gonzalez, CEO of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO), encouraged community members before they walked into the capitol to remind lawmakers the Latino community has strength in numbers. 

“Latino voters over-perform the national Latino voter participation rate here in Georgia,” he said. “That power means we Latinos get to pick who’s going to sit in the White House.”

A GALEO report from the 2020 election showed the Latino electorate increased at a higher rate in Georgia than nationwide. Those community members went to the state capitol that day to lobby legislators on affordable housing, child care and multilingual access to healthcare — bread and butter issues that affect Latino communities at higher rates.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is also keeping a close eye on who is voting. After national scrutiny of Georgia’s election processes during the 2020 election, Raffensperger conducted the first audit of Georgia’s voter rolls for citizenship status. 

“Ensuring that only citizens are voting in Georgia’s elections is key to upholding the integrity of the vote in Georgia,” Raffensperger said in a 2022 press release. The secretary of state’s office affirmed that citizens are the only ones voting in the state.

Hubbard, from the AIC, said data shows immigrants in Georgia become naturalized citizens at a rate higher than the national average. Georgia’s naturalization rate is 78.7%.

“Immigrants are wanting to become citizens,” he said. “We have found in our research, on average, those who have naturalized have an 8.9% increase in their individual earnings. But also, a big benefit is just the sense of belonging.”