Whether they saw President-elect Joe Biden as the leader to end the pandemic or as someone who can help end racial inequality, Georgia’s suburban voters tell us why the state went blue.

When the dust settled on the 2020 general election, one thing became clear in Georgia: The suburbs helped propel Joe Biden to his win. It’s the first time in nearly 30 years that a Democratic presidential nominee was able to capture the state. 

But the win was narrow—incredibly narrow. Of the 4,998,482 ballots cast in Georgia, the president-elect won by 12,670 votes, or about 0.26 percentage points. Another recount requested by the Trump campaign, which kicks off Tuesday, is not expected to change the outcome of the race.

“A lot of people think their vote doesn’t count,” said Renee Sowell, a 36-year-old who spoke with COURIER and lives in Martinez, Georgia. “Your vote does count. It really does.”

Sowell told COURIER that she’s not really into politics. Her life is busy with three children, teaching sixth grade science, and navigating graduate school. But on the last day of early voting, she stood in line to cast her ballot in person for Biden. 

Renee Sowell—a teacher and mother—told COURIER that Biden’s student loan plan helped her decide how to vote.

“I just wanted Donald Trump out of office,” she said. While she appreciated the former vice president’s lengthy experience in public service and his campaign promises to address student loan debt—“That was a big thing for me,” Sowell said—at the end of the day, she thought the country would be better off if Trump did not serve a second term. 

She, like nearly 80 million Americans across the country, thought it was time for a change. 

Because of the pivotal role Georgia played in the general election—and will play in determining the makeup of the Senate next year—COURIER spoke with several Georgians about the various issues informing their vote, and what they hope the new administration tackles in its early days.

We Need Somebody to Take COVID-19 Seriously

Early exit polls showed that the coronavirus pandemic was one of the biggest concerns for Georgia voters. As of Monday, the state had documented 433,000 infections and nearly 9,000 deaths. Those numbers were not lost on Georgia’s voters, and many saw the massive upheaval caused by the pandemic as grounds for supporting Biden.

Cindie Franklin Katz, a 50-year-old living in East Cobb, told COURIER she was “horrified” when President Trump contradicted Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, and other scientists working to mitigate the spread of the deadly virus. “Uncertainty is never something that’s sat well with me,” she said. “I had to vote for Biden.”

For Debra, a 55-year-old in Marietta who asked to withhold her last name, seeing her daughter begin high school virtually from her bedroom was tough. If Trump had won a second term, she told COURIER, there’s no telling how much more devastation the country would have endured. “I want a president with empathy,” she said. “I think Joe can handle it.”

Sort Fact From Fiction: Sign up for COURIER’s Newsletter

In fact, Biden has already unveiled a coronavirus task force packed with public health experts, and formed a special transition team to coordinate a government-wide response to COVID-19.

“COVID has basically stopped our entire economy and our way of life,” said Edward Adams, a 53-year-old in Stone Mountain. “We need somebody in charge who’s willing to take this seriously and do something about it.”

He added: “I know several people who have been sick. I know people who’ve died. It definitely affects me.”

While the human toll of COVID cannot be overstated, the devastation that the ongoing, unchecked pandemic is wreaking on the economy is also enormous. 

When COURIER spoke with Ryan, who lives in North Gwinnett County and asked that his last name be withheld for privacy, he said that although his and his wife’s companies have taken precautions to ensure they’re protected from the virus, they’ve been “extremely frustrated” with the way the Trump administration has handled the pandemic. The “nationwide plan that ‘if we don’t pay attention to it, COVID will go away’ … is utter nonsense and dangerous,” he told COURIER. 

RELATED: The First Day: Biden Lays Out Immediate Agenda to Tackle the Issues Americans Care About the Most

“It appears that areas who believe in science are doing better than those who don’t,” Ryan continued. “It is scary that lives are in the hands of those who are reckless. Biden was clear during his campaign and backed it up within hours of confirmation that science-driven recommendations will be pushed so we can finally start making progress.”

Kia Howey Dolby, a 45-year-old mother of three who lives southwest of Atlanta, echoed Ryan’s concerns. Dolby lives in East Point and owns a communications and marketing business. She believes the president-elect will be “somebody who can pass more relief as soon as possible, who will acknowledge the need for sustained relief, not one-time relief like what we did earlier this year,” she told COURIER.

The US Has an Urgent Need for a Leader Who Cares About Criminal Justice Reform 

With roots in slavery and Jim Crow-era segregation—not to mention months of civil unrest in response to racial injustice and police violence—it’s no surprise that Georgians cited criminal justice reform as another issue driving their vote. Because of the protests, Trump doubled down on his fear-mongering campaign, suggesting without evidence that violence would overrun the suburbs and promising to protect the “Suburban Housewives of America.” 

According to an analysis from Bloomberg CityLab, though, that divisive rhetoric did not resonate: Suburban voters across the country went for Biden by 51.2%. They also overwhelmingly supported ballot initiatives that championed progressive criminal justice initiatives. 

Kia Howey Dolby told us that multiple issues led her to choose Biden—her own needs as a small business owner and her concerns about racial injustice.

That increase in Democratic support also held true in Georgia. Dolby said that she supported Biden because she wanted “someone who will at least not be blind to the fact that there are a lot of social injustice and racial inequity issues and police issues.”

She added: “I think having somebody in leadership that will at least acknowledge it will be a step forward.”

For Adams, the Stone Mountain resident, Biden’s criminal justice platform offered some hope. Among other things, the president-elect has called for expanding the authority of the Department of Justice to address systemic racism and police brutality, investing in public defenders so that the accused has access to quality representation in the courts, and ensuring people who are experiencing mental health issues or homelessness have access to social services instead of being punished. 

“As a Black man, when you turn on the TV or you’re looking online and seeing incident after incident of living while Black, you realize that something has to happen from the top down,” Adams said. “There’s only so much we can do at the bottom, and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have been very vocal about it.”

Divisive Rhetoric and Policies Turned Off Many Voters in Suburban Georgia

In his first speech as president-elect, Biden made it clear that he wanted to bridge the bitter divisions in this country. “I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide, but to unify. Who doesn’t see red states and blue states, but sees the United States,” Biden said during his victory speech from Wilmington, Delaware.

The Pew Research Center found that 77% of Americans believe the US is now more divided than before the coronavirus outbreak, and that partisan antipathy is growing, as Pew put it, “more intense, more personal.”

Katz, of East Cobb, said she never imagined seeing this sort of division—and it’s been eye-opening for her, to say the least. “I worry about social reform, and I do worry for the future of our country,” she said “That was a huge part of why I voted for Biden.”

Cindie Franklin Katz hopes that Biden can unify the country while showing leadership and faith in science when dealing with the pandemic.

In her mind, the former vice president has proven through decades of public service that he puts the good of the country ahead of his own personal gain. “He’s the type of person who will make it better,” Katz explained. “He’s a person who can reach across and build a coalition that can put us back into a more stable and good place as a nation.”

Dolby agreed, but also acknowledged the long, hard road to bridging the vast divide in this country: “People are just very polarized right now.” 

Voters in Georgia Know What’s at Stake in the Jan. 5 US Senate Runoffs

In order to take serious action on these issues and more, President-elect Biden will need the help of the US Senate. During his tenure as Senate Majority Leader, however, Mitch McConnell has openly stonewalled hundreds of bills passed by the Democratic House—including the Heroes Act, a $3 trillion aid package that would provide desperately needed relief to Americans struggling economically because of the pandemic. 

Georgia voters will ultimately decide if power in the Senate remains in the hands of the GOP on Jan. 5, 2021. Because none of the candidates hoping to fill Georgia’s Senate seats were able to secure 50% of votes during the general election, Sen. David Perdue will face off against Jon Ossoff, while Sen. Kelly Loeffler will compete against the Rev. Raphael Warnock for the other seat. If the challengers win, Democrats will take back control of the Senate and help deliver on Biden’s agenda.

That outcome is also weighing heavily on the minds of Georgia voters. “The senate races are perhaps just as critical as the presidential race,” Ryan told COURIER. “Without those two Dems to split the Senate, McConnell has made it clear the Republican party is not open for negotiations.”

Debra of Marietta echoed those concerns. “I just think it’s really important for Ossoff and Warnock to be voted in. [Otherwise] McConnell is just going to shut everything down like he’s done,” she told COURIER. “There are so many bills sitting on his desk that haven’t been pushed through. He’s a roadblock, and we won’t be able to get anything done if he still has the majority.”

READ MORE: Everything You Need to Know About Voting in the Georgia Senate Runoff on Jan. 5