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Will India-Born Lawyer Make Biden’s US Senate Dream Come True? 

The Democrats’ lead lawyer in Georgia, Sachin Varghese understands the significance of the desi vote in the state.

Updated
Opinion
7 min read
Image of VP-Elect Kamala Harris (L), President-Elect Joe Biden (Centre), General Counsel of the Democratic Party of Georgia, Sachin Varghese (R).
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“It felt awesome. It was an overwhelming feeling electing Joe Biden and especially voting for Kamala, as the first woman VP, as the first woman of colour VP, and especially being of Indian American heritage. It was a moving moment for me.”

This is how Indian American Sachin Varghese describes his affirming of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s win in Georgia. Sachin Varghese, a high-power lawyer, chosen as a Democratic elector in Georgia, was honoured to cast his prestigious Electoral College vote that formalised the Biden-Harris win in Georgia.

Kerala-born American lawyer Sachin Varghese — an elector during the electoral college vote in Georgia, US on 14 December.
Kerala-born American lawyer Sachin Varghese — an elector during the electoral college vote in Georgia, US on 14 December.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

When Americans go to the polls in the presidential elections, they are not directly voting for the president. They are actually voting for a group of ‘electors’ like Sachin Varghese that make up the electoral college. They are party loyalists, lobbyists, influencers, lawmakers, civil rights crusaders, who after Biden’s victory in Georgia, were in charge of casting the state’s 16 electoral votes for the Democrats on 14 December. It was a historic day for Sachin Varghese who is also the General Counsel of the Democratic Party of Georgia.

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Kerala-Born Sachin Varghese’s Role In US Senate Race

Born in Kerala, Sachin was 16 months old when his family moved to the US in 1983. He grew up in Georgia, worked as a teacher for a year as part of the ‘Teach for America’ program before joining law school, and is now a partner attorney at an influential firm. As General Counsel, Sachin is the lead lawyer of the Georgia Democratic Party. He monitors and advises the party in all legal issues, litigation being a big part of that.

He was at the helm ensuring that the will of the people was not suppressed by multiple lawsuits that the Trump campaign had filed in Georgia after Election Day in November 2020.

“Litigation was designed to throw out votes in Democratic areas in Georgia. Our party had a strong interest that litigation does not suppress the will of the people. The party intervened even though it was not a defendant originally, but requested the courts to be allowed to become a party to the lawsuits, which was allowed. We moved to dismiss the litigations and our efforts succeeded,” he said.

Varghese family. 2017 photo.
Varghese family. 2017 photo.
(Photo: Facebook / Sachin Varghese)

Biden won Georgia by an extremely narrow margin but the two Senate seats had to go in for the re-election happening on 5 January, as no candidate won the minimum required 50 percent vote.

The outcome of this high-stakes election will decide the power tilt in the US Senate.

It is expected to play out a lot like November’s presidential election. High absentee voting and near-record turnout could slow count. Both parties expect court challenges to follow. Sachin Varghese believes that one doesn’t have to be a skeptic to expect litigation.

“You don’t have to be cynical to hold this view. You have to observe what Republicans have done before. I hope there will not be any litigation. Normally there will be no problem and an election will proceed smoothly, but folks on the losing side will potentially be litigious. If there is litigation of the kind we saw in November, we will deal with that as it will be on frivolous grounds.”

Ensuring No Ballot In Georgia Remains ‘Uncured’

With the expected intense scrutiny over mail-in absentee ballots, both parties have been running vote-protection programs. A lot more time is being spent on the ground in explaining ballot paperwork to voters to ensure their vote and registration signatures tally. ‘South Asians for Biden’, a civic advocacy group dedicated to mobilising the desi vote, is doing extensive ‘ballot rescue’ canvassing.

‘South Asians for Biden’: Annapurna Krishnan from California writes postcards to Georgian voters
‘South Asians for Biden’: Annapurna Krishnan from California writes postcards to Georgian voters
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

With 48 hours of sending in a ballot, Georgian voters can check online if their ballot has been rejected. This could be for various reasons including their signature not tallying with voter registration documents. To ‘cure’ their ballot, voters have to send an affidavit along with an identity proof document. Director of the Georgia chapter of ‘South Asians for Biden’, Sonjui Kumar and her team of volunteers ensures that no ballot remains uncured.

“We print everything out, fill it and leave it at a voter’s door in a plastic bag for them to sign the affidavit. We then take it from their door to submit it. We have everything on our hands to get your ballot in. We follow it up through our phone banks asking voters if they went online to ensure their ballots were accepted. There are excellent volunteers and organisations on the ground, having learnt from the presidential election to correct the vote.”

Georgia law allows voters to fix errors on their ballots within 3 days after election day on 5 January. Voting advocacy groups and local election commissions around the state are working to make sure that absentee ballots rejected for technical errors have a chance to be ‘cured’ and tallied.

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US Senate Race: Importance Of The Desi Vote In Georgia

The level of diligence shows that each and every vote in Georgia will count. The state surprised the country by flipping blue, but Biden’s margin of victory was just under 12,000 votes. Biden could not have carried the state without winning the Indian American vote. There are more than 150,000 desi voters in Georgia.

Asian American voters’ turnout in November was highest among all communities, doubling from 2016. The lead lawyer of the Democratic Party of Georgia, Sachin Varghese understands the significance of the desi vote in Georgia.

In response to my questioning the significance of contribution of Indian American vote in Biden-Harris victory he smiled and said:

“I am smiling because it brings me joy. The coalition ‘One Georgia for Joe Biden’ — multi ethnic coalition that the Democratic Party has built and will continue to build on — brought various communities and ethnicities together, hence it became successful. Remove one and Biden wouldn’t have been successful.”
Sachin Varghese with Georgia Democrat Stacy Abrams (2018 picture).
Sachin Varghese with Georgia Democrat Stacy Abrams (2018 picture).
(Photo: Facebook / Sachin Varghese)

The Asian American organisers who support the Democratic Party are trying to make it happen again in the Senate runoffs, using every possible canvassing style and opportunity, in what is a turn-out election. Sonjui Kumar’s team has left no voters un-contacted. “We have made multiple calls and there has been lots of outreach. We did everything we could. We went all out. We have got a tremendous response from volunteers and voters. At this stage if some are not going to vote, it is because they don’t want to vote, not because they haven’t been called or told about the election.”

Will Kamala Harris’s Be The ‘Tie-Breaking’ Vote In US Senate Race?

Democratic supporters from across the country, including desi teenagers and elderly, are sending letters, texting and calling voters in Georgia requesting them to cast their ballots in this crucial Senate election. Record funds raised, harnessing relations and culture, digital and social media outreach, sign-waving on streets – the energy from the presidential election is being poured into the state.

With the US Senate at 48-50 currently — Republicans have 50 seats, two more than Democrats’ 48 seats — the balance of power sways on these two seats.

The world’s eyes are on Georgia as the special election will determine control of the Senate, either enabling Biden to carry out his policy agenda in the early years of his administration, or leave Republicans in control. Democrats would need to capture both of the seats to secure a 50-50 tie in the Senate. Then Kamala Harris’s could be the tie-breaking vote. Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are running against Republican Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, in the Senate elections.

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Sachin Varghese May Have To Ride Waves Of Legal Battles To ‘Hand’ US Senate To Biden

More than 3 million Georgians have already voted. Of those votes, 928,069 are absentee by mail and 2,072,948 are from in-person early voting. After the 3 November US presidential election, Georgia was one of the states that saw Trump campaign unleash baseless lawsuits, mostly questioning mail-in votes. Ballots were counted and recounted in Georgia, thrice. 'Georgia Bureau of Investigations' audited mail-in ballot voter signatures.

The Senate runoffs are expected to unfold similarly.

Court challenges have begun — on 28 December, a federal judge dismissed Atlanta lawyer Lin Wood’s attempt to stop the Senate elections calling the claims ‘too speculative’. Considered an ‘extreme Trump advocate’ Wood appealed that the procedures being used by Georgia election officials to conduct absentee balloting violate Georgia’s election laws.

There will be more rounds of attempts to amplify Trump’s wildest accusations.

Sachin Varghese, General Counsel of the Democratic Party of Georgia, will ride waves of legal battles that will rise in the coming days, with an aim to deliver the US Senate to Biden — a critical role for the Kerala-born American attorney.

(Savita Patel is a senior journalist and producer, who produced ‘Worldview India’, a weekly international affairs show, and produced ‘Across Seven Seas’, a diaspora show, both with World Report, aired on DD. She has also covered stories for Voice of America TV from California. She’s currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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