Why we must carry on Stacey Abrams’ fight against voter suppression
When Brian Kemp, the Republican candidate for the governor of Georgia, declared victory over Democrat Stacey Abrams in the midterm election for the seat, Abrams refused to surrender. Abrams’ campaign lengthened the life of her campaign by filing a lawsuit that asked the state of Georgia to count votes they had previously rejected, which court rulings supported. Abrams continued to refuse to concede until all votes were counted.
In the end, Kemp still won the race. But Abrams’ reluctance to concede was not only about her determination to win, but also about preserving Georgia’s electoral integrity. In fact, before running for office, Abrams founded the New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan organization that fights voter suppression via voter registration. On election day, many of the issues about which Abrams has spent her career raising awareness were evident. Voters of color were an especially strong group of Abrams supporters, but voters in predominantly nonwhite districts and precincts — especially Jefferson and Gwinnett Counties — had to wait in hours of long lines as there weren’t enough voting machines to meet the voting demand. Young voters, another core group of Abrams supporters, also faced voting issues. Students at Albany State University, Morehouse College, and Spelman college expressed their frustrations with absentee ballots as well as being turned away and even being given provisional ballots at polling places — provisional ballots that wouldn’t have been counted had Abrams not taken legal action at the very end of the election.
Kemp’s dual roles as both candidate in the election and overseer of it as Georgia’s former secretary of state seem to add fuel to the fire of concerns of voter suppression in this election. While being a candidate alone would call Kemp’s ability to be genuinely impartial about the voting process into question, Kemp also fielded criticism and accusations of voter suppression for actions he had taken while in office. Between 2012 and 2016, Kemp removed more than one million names from the state’s voter rolls. Specifically, in October of 2018, 53,000 eligible voters had been stricken from the registry for minor misspellings and discrepancies regarding hyphens and spacing. The population of Georgia is 32 percent African-American, but a disproportionate 70 percent of the 53,000 purged voters identified as black, according to census data.
Rather than acknowledge these concerns, Kemp continued to gaslight those who questioned his integrity by claiming they were faking outrage. Kemp’s expedient call for Abrams to concede was also telling, especially since ballots were still being counted in the state when he claimed his victory. His campaign then framed Abrams’ steadfast refusal to concede as “antics” and a “disgrace to democracy.”
Despite her ultimate loss, however, Abrams still took the opportunity of her concession speech to stand up for what’s right. Abrams both recognized Kemp as governor-elect while still calling out voter suppression, referring to the election as a “gross mismanagement.” And Abrams isn’t finished with her political career yet, either. “I do indeed indeed intend to run for office again,” Abrams told CNN. “I’m not sure for what and I am not exactly certain when. I need to take a nap, but once I do, I’m planning on getting back into the ring.”
Abrams’ defeat highlights how historically overlooked and disenfranchised communities and districts — in Georgia and beyond — have been systematically silenced for decades. While Georgia may appear progressive due to famous performers from and in the state, like Donald Glover’s hit show Atlanta and the band Migos, these high-profile cases of vibrant diversity obscure the reality that Georgia is still in the pocket of the American south. The state is rooted in conservative and antebellum principles which still shape the state’s politics.
But Abrams has done so much by galvanizing young, women, and nonwhite voters in the state. Abrams’ campaign led to the registration of over 300,000 people of color all across the South. She led national conversations about voter suppression that had a visceral impact on her supporters. And, of course, she inspired many by coming so close to becoming the first black woman governor in the U.S., erasing past presumptions about black and women candidates. It’s this kind of outreach and impact that leads to foundational change in democratic processes. What’s more, Georgia looks like it will solidly become the nation’s newest purple state. Abrams’ true victory is the conversation and action she has sparked, which will hopefully have impact an entire new generation of voters and beyond.
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