ATLANTA, GEORGIA — Former President Barack Obama rallied with Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams Friday night at a historically black college in Atlanta, calling out her opponent’s efforts to suppress voters of color.
During a speech at Morehouse College, Obama said that Republican politicians in Georgia are following the GOP playbook when it comes to blocking access to the ballot.
“You win the right to vote?” he said, explaining that progress is often followed by conservative retrenchment. “Folks are still trying to take it away. Trying to do it in Georgia, right now, right here, in 2018.”
Later, he mentioned Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp (R), though not by name.
“Stacey’s opponent has now been caught multiple times,” he said, alluding to Kemp’s efforts to purge people from the voter rolls, coordinate the closure of polling places, and generally make it harder for non-white people to cast ballots.
Obama also mentioned comments made in private by Kemp, first reported by Rolling Stone, who said he’s concerned about Abrams getting out the vote on Tuesday. “And I’m quoting here,'” Obama said. “‘Especially if everybody uses and exercises their right to vote.’ He thinks that’s a problem.”
“If you are aspiring to the highest office in the state in which you pledge to look out for the people of your state, then how can you actively try to prevent the citizens of your state from exercising their most basic right?” Obama asked.
Obama’s comments came the same day a federal judge ordered Kemp to allow more than 3,000 people, who he had purged using his exact match voting law, to vote in the midterm election if they provide a valid proof of citizenship at the polls. Kemp had flagged the voters because he had concerns about their citizenship status, and most of them are voters of color.
It wasn’t Kemp’s only loss in court this week, In a separate decision, another Georgia judge ruled that absentee ballot applications cannot be thrown out if they violate the exact match rule.
Abrams supporters in the audience said Obama’s comments about voter suppression resonated with them. Linda McLean, a 68-year-old retired educator in Atlanta, said Kemp’s efforts this year feel familiar.
“It seems like segregation and racism is just repeating itself,” she said. “But it does it in a different way right now. It’s kind of undercover. And it does it through the judicial system too. If we’re not careful, my great-great-great-grandchildren might just be back in slavery.”
While she doesn’t personally know anyone who has had trouble casting a ballot, she said she believes that Kemp is working to rig the election in his favor.
“I can believe he might have suppressed votes,” she said. “I can believe that he would do something like that, because that’s the Republicans’ DNA.”
McLean said she thinks Kemp is “being a coward” by not resigning from his position as secretary of state during the election. Abrams’ campaign and others have called for him to step down, claiming it’s unethical for the person administering the election to also appear on the ballot in such a close race.
Toward the end of his remarks, Obama repeated his signature line, empowering the largely-black audience to fight Kemp’s voter suppression.
“If their efforts to take away your right to vote make you mad, there’s only one way,” he said. “Don’t boo, vote. Vote, vote, vote.”
Additional reporting by Joshua Eaton.