A runoff election in Georgia could reverse rampant voter suppression

The runoff election comes in the wake of Stacey Abrams closely watched gubernatorial loss.

In the wake of Stacey Abrams' high-profile loss in the Georgia gubernatorial election last month, the voting rights fight continues in the secretary of state runoff. CREDIT: Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images
In the wake of Stacey Abrams' high-profile loss in the Georgia gubernatorial election last month, the voting rights fight continues in the secretary of state runoff. CREDIT: Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

It’s been a little less than a month since the election and hardly two weeks since former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams (D) refused to concede to her Republican opponent, Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

“[T]o watch an elected official who claims to represent the people in the state baldly pin his hopes for election on the suppression of the people’s democratic right to vote has been truly appalling,” Abrams said last month. “So let’s be clear: This is not a speech of concession. Because concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true, or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede that.”

The speech — which was decidedly, as she said, not a concession — ended Abrams’ campaign to become the country’s first black woman governor. Now, she’s focused on another race, one much less high profile but arguably almost as important. Voters are set to return to the polls Tuesday to vote in the runoff election for secretary of state, the winner of which will replace Kemp.

The race, between former Rep. John Barrow (D) and state Rep. Brad Raffensperger (R), is headed to a runoff after neither candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote on Election Day. Raffensperger ultimately led by about 16,000 votes out of more than 3.8 million cast, according to the Associated Press.


Despite Abrams’ endorsement of Barrow and her continued condemnations of the state’s electoral system, however, Barrow has, as The Washington Post noted Sunday, toned down some of the fiery rhetoric in high-profile appearances. Instead, he focuses on Raffensperger’s tax debts and promotes himself as an efficient election manager.

In digital ads, however, as the Post reported, he’s been appealing to voters who are “outraged at the recent voter suppression tactics in our state’s elections” and “fed up with politicians who enable our fellow citizens to be disenfranchised.”

In an interview with the paper, Abrams called Barrow “part of the solution.”

Raffensperger, for his part, has kept a low profile, pulling out of the only televised debate of the race (due to, he said, scheduling conflicts). He has defended, as the AP put it Sunday, Georgia’s “maintenance of voting rolls” and has vowed to make sure only legal citizens can cast a ballot, a tried and true excuse many on the right have used to suppress legal voting.

During his tenure, including and especially in the lead-up to the midterm elections, Kemp used his office to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters.

A recent investigation by the Palast Investigative Fund found that Kemp improperly purged more than 340,000 voter rolls. According to the report, Kemp, in his role as secretary of state, cancelled hundreds of thousands of registrations on the grounds that voters had moved, but the investigation found the voters in question still lived at the address where they were registered.


“Their registration is cancelled. Not pending, not inactive – cancelled. If they show up to vote on 6 November, they will not be allowed to vote. That’s wrong,” Greg Palast told reporters on a call in October. “We can prove they’re still there. They should be allowed to vote.”

Additionally, an analysis from The Washington Post found that the state’s “exact match” law, which was passed last year, could disenfranchise nearly 910,000 voters. The law requires that citizens’ names on their government-issued IDs must precisely match their names as listed on the voter rolls, including accents on letters, hyphens in names, and full middle names versus middle initials.

The Georgia NAACP has filed a lawsuit arguing that the exact match law is intended to disenfranchise minority voters.

And as ThinkProgress reported in October, a group of elderly voters were forced off a Black Voters Matter bus taking the seniors to vote. Abrams herself rallied with voters in the town not long after the incident.

“Even if there are obstacles, we have to recognize that those obstacles are only permanent if we don’t fight them,” she told ThinkProgress. “We want to make certain that the folks of Louisville in Jefferson County understand that we are standing with them as they cast their votes.”