Opinion|In Praise of Stacey Abrams and Her Fight Against Voter Suppression

By Molly Corbin

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

“We live in a time where we have purported leaders who claim to speak for us but do not know us, and in that ignorance, they make decisions that are designed not for our success but for our demise. So my deep suspicion is that some people are lying when they say they care about us,” said Stacey Abrams in February of 2020, at an event for Black women in Georgia addressing HIV, health, and social justice.

Unlike the opportunistic government leaders she described, Abrams is a woman of the people of Georgia. While she has most recently gained recognition for turning Georgia blue in the 2020 presidential election, she has long been a force to be reckoned with.

Abrams is a politician, lawyer, voting rights activist, and New York Times bestselling author. Inside and out of her involvement in politics, she has been a first in many things. Abrams was her high school’s first Black valedictorian, one of Atlanta’s Deputy City Attorneys at just 29 years old, the first woman to lead either party in the Georgia General Assembly in 2006, and the first Black person elected to lead in the Georgia House of Representatives in 2010.

And she certainly understands her value. She has said that oftentimes, many women, particularly minority women, feel as if their appearance dictates their opportunities for success. To this, Abrams responded, “I acknowledge that people will see something on the outside that tells them a story about who I am. My job is to tell them the whole story. My job is to believe my own story.” She believes that no woman should discount their own abilities or be afraid to show how smart they are.

Abrams served in the Georgia House of Representatives for 11 years, seven of which as the Democratic leader. She founded the Fair Fight organization in 2014, as well as both the Fair Count and Southern Economic Advancement Project Initiatives. And in 2018, she became the Democratic nominee for the governor of Georgia, running a close race against Republican incumbent Brian Kemp, though ultimately losing. She initially refused to concede the race, demanding the votes be counted again.

In 2021, Stacey Abrams’ refusal to concede is reminiscent of Donald Trump’s declaration of election fraud in the recent presidential election, in which he filed and subsequently lost 86 lawsuits challenging the election. But Abrams’ situation was vastly different from Trump’s. Her contestation of the election results represented a courageous battle against voter suppression, a long standing evil in Georgia.

AP/AP

The key difference was that Abrams provided evidence to back up her claims about the voting system, something that Trump has never done. During her 2018 race for governor, Abrams’ accusation that her opponent Kemp disenfranchised minorities was substantiated by evidence.

Kemp was Georgia’s secretary of state at the time and had a lot of influence on its election mechanics. As secretary of state, his main job was to supervise Georgia’s elections and certify results. According to journalist Kevin Powell, it would be like Tom Brady not only being the quarterback of his team, but the scorekeeper and referee as well. This caused controversy in the 2018 race, due to the sway that Kemp held over election results.

In 2018, he suspended the processing of 53,000 voter registrations, mainly belonging to African-Americans who had initially signed up to vote through Abrams’ New Georgia Project, a group that has worked to increase minority voter registration for years. He implemented strict voting rules, claiming that they are necessary to combat fraud, such as a 2017 law in Georgia passed with his encouragement, which requires an “exact match” between a voter’s registration form and their government documents. A missing hyphen or a difference between a married and a maiden name could cause a registration to be suspended. Critics have called laws such as these a form of voter suppression directed precisely at the new voters that Ms. Abrams is aiming to bring to the polls.

Abrams also claimed that Kemp had not been transparent about the outstanding provisional ballots, as her findings showed that 26,846 of these ballots were still uncounted for. Kemp stated that there were not enough outstanding votes to require a recount or a runoff election.

By contrast, Trump had no evidence to support his erroneous claims of election fraud. His claims have been proven wrong by plain and simple facts. “All of the states with close results in the 2020 presidential race have paper records of each vote, allowing the ability to go back and count each ballot if necessary,” said a cybersecurity panel within the Department of Homeland Security, “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

Trump also instructed Georgia Secretary of State Brad to “find” the exact number of votes necessary to overcome President Biden’s margin of victory. Trump essentially wanted to fabricate votes to claim a victory. Raffensperger himself stated that in this past election, he has felt pressured by Republicans to not count legally cast votes if they hinder Trump’s cause.

While Trump wanted to contrive votes in his favor, Abrams simply wanted every single vote to be counted. Abrams never sought to change the outcome of her election results; she only wanted to improve the mechanisms by which future elections are run by protecting every citizen’s right to vote. “Nobody ever sought to overturn the results of the election”, said Sara Tindall Ghazal, the former voter protection program director for the Democratic Party of Georgia. Abrams herself said, “my responsibility [in contesting the gubernatorial election results] was to focus on the right to vote and not my right to be governor. I had no right to be governor, but I have an obligation to do the work that I said I would do if I were governor.” Abrams’ fight was not a fight for her own right to hold an office, but a fight for the people of Georgia.

Her 2018 election race is what ignited her fight against voter suppression and her desire to improve the mechanics of future elections.

Voter suppression has a long history in Georgia, the state in which Abrams lives and works. As far back as the Civil War, citizenship tests and guides (which told people whether or not they qualified as a citizen of the US), qualified voter charts, and fear tactics combined with violence by the Ku Klux Klan were used to suppress Black voters in Georgia and in the South. Voter suppression still exists in the present day, though it has evolved to take different forms. “In the 21st century, voter suppression looks like administrative errors. It looks like user error. It looks like mistakes. But it is just as intentional and just as insidious,” Abrams said.

In October of 2019, the Georgia Secretary of State published a list of 313,243 people who had been purged from Georgia’s voter rolls based on the premise that they had moved from their registration address. After investigating the list, the Palast Investigative Fund discovered that 198,351 citizens were wrongly purged from voter rolls, as they had not moved from their registration address. This is a 63.3% error rate.

Georgia sent out address confirmation postcards to hundreds of thousands of voters without first applying Advance Address List Hygiene methods (a method of residential address verification), which is required by the National Postal Service for mass mailings. This method of residential address verification causes racial disparities because African-American and Hispanic voters in urban areas tend to be young, low-income renters, who are more likely to move frequently and less likely to respond to physical mail like postcards. Mail that is only printed in English can also be a barrier, especially among Asian-Americans, according to registration organizations in Georgia. As a result, many legal voters have been unjustly purged from voter rolls.

Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun

Georgia has also consistently closed polling places in areas of Black concentration, forcing Black voters to wait in hours-long lines.

Stacey Abrams has resolved to fight voter suppression in Georgia and elsewhere. The organization she founded in 2014, Fair Fight, works to promote fair elections in Georgia and throughout the country by educating voters on their rights, advocating for election reform, and combating voter suppression. The organization trains grassroots advocates, lobbies for new election laws, and argues in court against those that are unconstitutional. Fair Fight’s political action committee worked to raise millions of dollars to feed into battleground states during the last election, sending their staff to support voter rights infrastructure by establishing voter hotlines and creating voter protection teams. Abrams herself is involved in local communities, talking to populations targeted by voter suppression in order to inform them on what they can do to protect their vote.

Abrams has had a profound impact, and you can too. There are many ways to take action against voter suppression in your own community. One of the easiest things to do is to make sure that members of your community, especially communities of color, are aware that they are at risk for voter suppression. There are local organizations all around the country with similar missions to Fair Fight that you can work with, such as the American Civil liberties Union, League of Women Voters, Voto Latino, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Asian Law Caucus. You can become involved with these organizations from anywhere in the country. Be conscious to direct your efforts towards communities of color, who are most disproportionately affected by voter suppression.

Christopher Diltz for Obama for America/Flickr

At your own school, you can partner with local and national voter suppression organizations to run voter drives if your state allows 16–17 year olds to pre-register to vote. Visit Learning for Justice for some great ideas on how to start a voter drive at your school or the Movement Voter Project if you’re looking for a local group in your area that is fighting voter suppression. Make sure that you are registered to vote as soon as you turn 18 and know the voting laws of your state. You can also contact your local senator, representative, or state official (find your representative at https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative).

Molly Corbin is a high school senior from Graham, Washington and a blog writer for Youth Upholding Democracy. The views reflected in this article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Youth Upholding Democracy.

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A group of students working to increase civic participation among our fellow young people. https://www.youthupholdingdemocracy.com/

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