Stacey Abrams remains mum on whether she plans to run for president. In the meantime, she’s continuing her fight against the one thing that kept her out of the Georgia governor’s mansion in 2018: voter suppression.
Abrams is sounding an alarm about voter suppression laws in place in Republican-led states like Florida, Arizona, Georgia, and Texas that could affect the 2020 election. But she also is issuing a warning about states with newly-elected Democratic governors, like Michigan and Wisconsin, where Republican lawmakers will block any effort to strip existing unjust voter laws already on the books.
“You’ve got a raft of states, 25 states, that since 2010 have passed laws to increase voter suppression and decrease access to the ballot,” Abrams said in an address at the Council on Foreign Relations.
A former minority leader in Georgia’s House of Representatives who narrowly lost the governor’s race, Abrams is in the vanguard of a movement to expand the number of voters of color, who often support Democrats.
But as the country moves inexorably towards becoming majority minority, Republicans are passing a growing number of laws that aim to help them retain power.
Under the guise of preventing voter fraud — a nearly non-existent issue — GOP-controlled states have passed laws that make it more difficult for minority voters to cast ballots, including new voter ID laws, restrictions on early voting, and barriers on voter registration.
Most of the states to keep a close eye on for signs of voter suppression, Abrams said, currently have Republican governors. But also of concern are some blue states — including ones with Democratic leadership — that used to be GOP-run.
“We know that Wisconsin and Michigan now have Democratic governors. But they also have Republican legislators, which means that the bad bills that were passed years ago remain in place,” Abrams told a group gathered Friday at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“The voter suppression of 2010 didn’t disappear with the election of 2018. And so we need to be there because we know (with) those two states… we could have won the 2016 election.”
The fight is personal for Abrams. She nearly was elected the first black woman governor in U.S. history, but instead lost the race in Georgia by just 1.4% to former Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Abrams has accused Kemp of rigging the race, charging him with employing a series of corrupt tactics that prevented thousands of minority voters from casting ballots to ensure his own election.
As she weighs her next moves, Abrams said is looking at “executive level opportunities” — including perhaps another stab at Georgia’s governorship — and has not ruled out the 2020 presidential election. In the meantime, she continues to fight against voter suppression laws via Fair Fight Action, the voting rights group that she recently launched.
Other prominent Democrats have launched similar campaigns against Republican election-rigging schemes. This includes former Attorney General Eric Holder who, with the backing of former President Barack Obama, created the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. The initiative is focused on countering GOP efforts to gerrymander congressional maps that will be drawn following next year’s decennial census.
Meanwhile, Andrew Gillum, who narrowly lost the Florida governor’s race last year, has launched a voter registration campaign in the Sunshine State tasked with unseating Republican President Donald Trump in the upcoming presidential election.
Kemp, generally deemed to be among the worst offenders when it comes to suppressing votes, was recently sued for blocking 53,000 voter registrations. Nearly 70% of the affected voters were African Americans, while the population of Georgia is just about 32% black.
Kemp also canceled 1.4 million voter registrations dating back to 2012 for what he described as “voter roll maintenance,” closed hundreds of polling stations, and imposed a exact match voter registration system that flags when an individual’s information does not perfectly match the information on file at state offices. And since the election, Kemp’s administration opened up an unfounded investigation against Abrams for alleged “cyber crimes” committed during the campaign.
Georgia is far from the only state attempting to suppress the votes of black and brown people. In response to the success of the Tennessee Black Voter Project which last year registered thousands of new voters in Memphis, Republicans in the state passed a new law that threatens harsh civil and criminal penalties for civic groups that violent stringent new requirements when registering new voters.
In Arizona, meanwhile, high voter-turnout among Latinx voters during the midterms reportedly helped Democrat Kyrsten Sinema win her U.S. Senate election. Months later, Republicans pushed a bill preventing Arizona residents from turning in by hand early voting ballots that they receive by mail. Another new law makes it harder to get emergency approval to vote ahead of Election Day.
Florida offers another egregious example of voter suppression. After Floridians restored the voting rights of over a million people with felony convictions last November, Republican lawmakers pushed through what is essentially a poll tax that would require them to pay any fines and fees owed to the state before they are allowed to vote. The measure, which is expected to be signed soon by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), would block thousands of Floridians from being re-enfranchised.
Abrams said these and other schemes can silence communities and erode American democracy. “When you suppress minority participation, that is the first step to autocracy. And we like to think we are invulnerable but we are not. Our democracy may be resilient, but it is also fragile,” she said.
“When I think about the 2020 election, my deepest fear is that we are not going to face simply voter suppression,” Abrams added, “but the more insidious part of voter suppression will take effect and that is, that people think they no longer count.”