Stacy Abrams’s ‘concession’ is a call to arms against systematic GOP voter suppression

Democratic Georgia  gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams acknowledged on Friday that she had no clear path to victory. She did not, however, offer a concession speech but rather a call to arms against systematic GOP voter suppression in Georgia. Video Link. Abrams spoke truth to naked abuse of power.

Screen Shot 2018-11-19 at 9.39.30 AM

Full Text: Stacey Abrams’ speech to end the Georgia governor’s race (excerpts):

[W]e are a mighty nation because we embedded in our national experiment the chance to fix what is broken. To call out what has faltered. To demand fairness wherever it can be found. Which is why on Election Night, I declared that our fight to count every vote is not about me. It is about us. It’s about the democracy we share and our responsibility to preserve our way of life. Our democracy – because voting is a right and not a privilege.

I stand here today as witness to that truth. This election is about all of us – as is the resolution of this moment.

I acknowledge that former Secretary of State Brian Kemp will be certified as the victor in the 2018 gubernatorial election.

But to watch an elected official – who claims to represent the people of this state, baldly pin his hopes for election on the suppression of the people’s democratic right to vote – has been truly appalling. So, to be clear, this is not a speech of concession.

Concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede. But my assessment is that the law currently allows no further viable remedy.

Because Georgia still has a decision to make about who will we be in the next election. And the one after that. And the one after that. So we have used this election and its aftermath to diagnose what has been broken in our process:

Make no mistake, the former Secretary of State was deliberate and intentional in his actions. I know that eight years of systemic disenfranchisement, disinvestment and incompetence had its desired effect on the electoral process in Georgia.

I also know that we live in a nation where four federal judges were necessary to force the counting of more ballots cast, in the face of Brian Kemp’s opposition and disregard to their lawful consideration.

I know that millions of Georgians, of Americans – of goodwill and various partisan beliefs – are enraged by these truths. In response, you may seek to vent your anger, or worse, turn away from politics because it can be as rigged and rotten as you’ve always believed.

I implore each of you to not give in to that anger or apathy but instead turn to action. Because the antidote to injustice is progress. The cure to this malpractice is a fight for fairness in every election held – in every law passed – in every decision made.

Pundits and hyper-partisans will hear my words as a rejection of the normal order. I’m supposed to say nice things and accept my fate. They will complain that I should not use this moment to recap what was done wrong or to demand a remedy. As a leader, I should be stoic in my outrage and silent in my rebuke.

But stoicism is a luxury and silence is a weapon for those who would quiet the voices of the people, and I will not concede because the erosion of our democracy is not right.

* * *

Today, I announce the launch of Fair Fight Georgia, an operation that will pursue accountability in Georgia’s elections and integrity in the process of maintaining our voting rolls. In the coming days, we will be filing a major federal lawsuit against the state of Georgia for the gross mismanagement of this election and to protect future elections from unconstitutional actions.

We will channel the work of the past several weeks into a strong legal demand for reform of our elections system in Georgia. And I will not waver in my commitment to work across party lines and across divisions to find a common purpose in protecting our democracy. For a state that elects Democrats and Republicans and Independents. That elects leaders who will not tolerate an erosion of our values.

Fair Fight Georgia. Because these votes are our voices. We are each entitled to our choices. And we have always, Georgia, been at the forefront of speaking truth to whatever power may lay claim to leadership – if only for the moment. We will win because we are Georgia.

And we will get it done.

Ari Berman writes at Mother Jones, Brian Kemp’s Win In Georgia Is Tainted by Voter Suppression:

There were a multitude of voting problems in the gubernatorial race between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams. Eligible voters didn’t show up on the registration rolls or were purged by the state. Thousands of Georgians had their registrations put on hold and weren’t sure if they’d be able to vote. Some voters were wrongly flagged as non-citizens; others had their ballots rejected because poll workers told them they had the wrong ID. Hundreds of polling places were shuttered before the election, and other precincts had four-hour lines. Absentee ballots were rejected because of signature mismatches or other minor errors. One Abrams adviser described it as “death by a thousand paper cuts.”

Screen Shot 2018-11-19 at 5.57.08 AM

Abrams came within 18,000 votes of forcing a runoff. The election was marred by allegations of widespread voter suppression, and the Abrams campaign says that suppression may have prevented enough votes to keep the race from going to a runoff.

* * *

We don’t know yet—and might never know—how many people were disenfranchised or dissuaded from voting in the state. But it’s clear that Kemp did everything in his power to put in place restrictive voting policies that would help his candidacy and hurt his opponent, all while overseeing his own election.

Georgia was the epicenter of Republican voter suppression tactics in 2018. As secretary of state, Kemp instituted a series of suppressive policies that Abrams said allowed him to “tilt the playing field in his favor.” These efforts uniquely hurt voters of color, who formed the backbone of the Abrams base, while having a much smaller effect on white voters, who strongly supported Kemp.

Kemp began by shrinking the electorate. Under his leadership, Georgia purged 1.5 million voters from 2012 to 2016, twice as many as in the previous four years, and removed an additional 735,000 voters from the rolls over the past two years. On one evening in July 2017, Georgia purged 500,000 voters, in an act the Atlanta Journal Constitution said “may represent the largest mass disenfranchisement in US history.” Some voters were removed legitimatelybecause they had died or moved, while others were purged for more controversial reasons, such as not having voted in the previous six years. More than 130,000 of those purged had registered to vote in 2008, when Barack Obama first ran for president, and nearly half were voters of color.

Registration problems were widespread in Georgia. Weeks before the election, the Associated Press reported that Kemp’s office had put 53,000 people on a pending registration list because information on their voter registration forms did not match state databases. Seventy percent were African American and 80 percent voters of color, in a state that’s 60 percent white. Though these people remained eligible to vote, the list led to widespread confusion, and there were reports on Election Day of hundreds of people on the pending registration list being forced to cast provisional ballots or leaving the polls without voting, even though they should have been given regular ballots. Three thousand naturalized US citizens—who were disproportionately Latino and Asian American—were put on the list because their citizenship status didn’t automatically update in state databases when they become citizens.

The 22,000 provisional ballots cast in 2018 far exceeded the number of provisional ballots in 2014 (12,000) and 2016 (17,000). Based on data from past elections, rough half of these ballots will be rejected, according to election officials. A federal court found that the increase in provisional ballots was “likely to have been the result of persistent problems and/or errors in the State’s voter registration system and ineffective administration of the provisional balloting scheme.”

Days before the election, Kemp falsely accused Georgia Democrats of “cyber-crimes” for uncovering vulnerabilities in the secretary of state’s website. Georgia was one of only five states that used electronic voting machines with no paper backups, and Kemp repeatedly resisted efforts to secure the state’s voting system, accusing the federal government of trying to “subvert the Constitution” when it offered to help safeguard against Russian hacking in 2016.

* * *

Long lines at the polls were another big problem. The average wait time on Election Day was three hours in metro Atlanta. One largely African American precinct outside Atlanta saw four-and-a-half-hour lines. There were no similar reports of long lines in Republican-leaning areas. It’s impossible to know how many people left without voting because of the lines. Georgia had the second-longest voting wait times of any state in 2016, and the problem only got worse in 2018.

Long lines were compounded by the fact that Georgia had closed 214 polling places since 2012. “One-third of Georgia’s counties,” reported the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “have fewer precincts today than they did in 2012.” More than half of the counties with closed voting locations had African American populations of 25 percent or higher. Though the decisions were made by individual counties, Kemp’s office advised them on how to close polling locations.

A series of court decisions before the election rebuked Kemp’s actions, finding that he violated laws such as the Voting Rights Act, National Voter Registration Act, and Help America Vote Act. (More voting rights lawsuits have been filed against Georgia than any state except for Texas since 2011.) In five court decisions, judges instructed Georgia to count absentee ballots rejected because of mismatched signatures or missing birth dates; ordered counties to give voters more time to have their provisional ballots counted; and said that naturalized citizens should be given the opportunity to vote if they brought proof of citizenship to the polls. But it’s unclear how many of the orders filtered down to poll workers or everyday voters, who remained confused by the dizzying number of voting restrictions and last-minute court rulings.

When he was running for reelection as secretary of state in 2014, Kemp warned: “Democrats are working hard registering all these minority voters that are out there and others that are sitting on the sidelines. If they can do that, they can win these elections in November.” Kemp did everything in his power to make sure that didn’t happen in 2018—and that’s a big reason why he, and not Abrams, will be Georgia’s next governor.

As Stacy Abrams predicted, “Pundits and hyper-partisans will hear my words as a rejection of the normal order.” Somewhat surprisingly,  election law expert Rick Hasen is one of those pundits.Why Democrats Should Not Call the Georgia Governor’s Race “Stolen”:

Many Democrats are understandably angry about efforts to suppress the vote in Georgia and elsewhere in the 2018 midterm elections. In the Peach State, there is no question that Gov.-elect Brian Kemp, while secretary of state, made it harder for minority and other voters to register and vote, through a combination of deliberate efforts and gross incompetence. He administered what I consider to be the most egregious partisan action by an election official in the modern era when he falsely accused the Georgia Democratic Party of hacking into the state election system and, a few days before Election Day, posted that false accusation on the website that Georgia voters used to get polling information.

But for three reasons, Democrats should stop with the rhetoric that the race was “stolen,” as Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, has said, and they should not follow the lead of Kemp’s Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams, who repeatedly refused to acknowledge Kemp as the “legitimate” winner of the election when questioned Sunday by CNN’s Jake Tapper.

First, rhetoric about stolen elections feeds a growing cycle of mistrust and delegitimization of the election process, an attack pushed by President Donald Trump and other Republicans who have been yelling “voter fraud” every time they are behind in the count. I’ve already set out my fear that Trump could refuse to concede the 2020 presidential election if he is ahead in the count on election night and then ballot counts inevitably shift toward Democrats as the counting continues. A democratic polity depends on losers accepting election results, even if the election was not conducted perfectly. I would hold “stolen” election rhetoric for conduct even more outrageous than Kemp’s decisions, which, while odious, either have not been found to be illegal or that courts allowed to remain in place for this election.

Second, the rhetoric about a stolen election is unproven … As Ari Berman recently put it, “We don’t know yet—and might never know—how many people were disenfranchised or dissuaded from voting in the state. But it’s clear that Kemp did everything in his power to put in place restrictive voting policies that would help his candidacy and hurt his opponent, all while overseeing his own election.” Saying Kemp tried to suppress Democratic votes and saying the election was stolen are two different things, and making charges of a stolen election when it cannot be proved undermines Democrats’ complaints about suppressive tactics. If Democrats can’t prove it, some people will think the suppression is no big deal when it really is.

This ties in with the third and final problem I see with “stolen election” rhetoric: It focuses attention on the wrong question: whether there was enough suppression to change election outcomes. As I’ve long argued, the right question is why the state gets to put stumbling blocks in front of voters—such as onerous voter registration requirements and easy voter-purge rules—without offering a good reason for doing so. We know that the “voter fraud” and public-confidence arguments often advanced for suppressive tactics are bogus, and we need to keep saying it whether it is one voter or thousands of voters facing new hurdles.

By focusing on the dignity and respect to be afforded to each voter, we can push to maximize the number of eligible voters who are enfranchised and able to cast a ballot that will count, regardless of election outcomes.

Rather than questioning the election’s legitimacy or making uprovable claims of stolen elections, Democrats should focus their efforts into doing whatever is possible to prevent voter suppression and incompetence in the upcoming 2020 elections. I was very pleased to see that in her speech acknowledging Kemp as the legal winner of the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election, Abrams announced “the launch of Fair Fight Georgia, an operation that will pursue accountability in Georgia’s elections and integrity in the process of maintaining our voting rolls. In the coming days, we will be filing a major federal lawsuit against the state of Georgia for the gross mismanagement of this election and to protect future elections from unconstitutional actions.”

This is the right way to go … The state needs to entirely revamp its voter registration system, which has proved uniquely susceptible to hacking. The state needs to fix tough and unnecessary voter-purge rules. It must replace bad voting machines and unfair and unclear procedures. The state must put in place fair processes for notifying voters whose mail-in ballots are rejected for nonmatching signatures. Whichever of these remedies the state doesn’t pursue voluntarily should be the subject of lawsuits where possible.

* * *

President Barack Obama famously told people at his rallies, “Don’t boo. Vote.” There’s a corollary here. Don’t cry “stolen elections.” Keep the pressure on and sue when necessary, so that voter suppression doesn’t affect thousands of voters in 2020, as it did in 2018.





Support volunteer citizen journalism at the Blog for Arizona with a donation today. Your secure contribution keeps the Blog online and sustains a free press in Arizona.


One response to “Stacy Abrams’s ‘concession’ is a call to arms against systematic GOP voter suppression

  1. For Sure Not Tom

    Stacy Abrams is freakin’ awesome.