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'My Job Is To Make Certain That Democracy Works': Stacey Abrams Explains Efforts To Fight Voter Suppression17:18
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Former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams speaks at an event on Wednesday, April 10, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Wolf/AP Images for The Roosevelt Institute)
Former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams speaks at an event on Wednesday, April 10, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Wolf/AP Images for The Roosevelt Institute)

With Kimberly Atkins

Former Democratic state lawmaker and Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams announced last month she would not be running for president. Instead, she will focus on extending voter protection programs in the U.S. with her new initiative, Fair Fight 2020.

" 'Fair Fight 2020' is a 20-state, multimillion dollar effort to set up voter protection teams in the 20 battleground states," Abrams told On Point's Kimberly Atkins.  “And we define those as states that have statewide elections this year, as well as states that are going to be pivotal in the presidential election, the senate election, down-ballot races — including secretaries of state and attorney general — as well as states that have the possibility of flipping state legislative seats to participate in redistricting for 2021.”

Guest

Stacey Abrams, former lawmaker and Democratic gubernatorial candidate for Georgia. Founder of Fair Fight 2020, an initiative that aims to combat voter suppression. (@staceyabrams)

Interview Highlights

On Fair Fight 2020

“We did a great deal of deep research, and we looked at the states that have, No. 1, a history of either voter suppression or voter interference. We looked at the states that are going to have the strongest impact, based on the margins of victory or loss from the 2016 election and also [the] 2018 [midterm elections]. We looked at states where we have Senate elections that will help determine control of the Senate for 2020, and we looked at states that have [secretary of state] races, but also states that have chambers that may flip and influence who controls redistricting for 2021 and beyond.”

"My responsibility is to ensure that the right to vote, the right to have that vote counted is sacrosanct. And, concession says that the system works perfectly fine. I do not believe the system works perfectly fine."

Stacey Abrams

On her choice not to concede after she lost the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race

“There's a lot that’s been made of my refusal to concede and similar accusations against Trump and whether or not he will acknowledge the legal outcome of an election. And I want to draw that very clear distinction. I acknowledge the legal sufficiency of the election — that under the laws of Georgia as they stand, Brian Kemp became the governor of Georgia. But the problem I have is that the laws, and their application, are unjust. And that lack of justice is not whether or not I could become governor. There is no pathway where I become governor in 2018, and I'm very clear on that. But, what is possible is that thousands of people were denied the right to vote in the state of Georgia — through interference with their ability to get registered, to stay registered, to receive access to a ballot and to have those ballots counted.

“My refusal to concede was taken from the way I was raised. My parents were civil rights activists. My dad went to jail as a teenager for helping register people to vote. They raised me to understand how pivotal and fundamental the right to vote is. And the challenge I have is that typically, at the end of an election night, the conversation is about the candidates. It's not about the people. And my decision not to concede was one that came from the fact that we talked to hundreds of thousands of people — we generated interest from 1.9 million people, the highest number of Democrats to ever vote in Georgia — and concession would be to say to them that those who were sent away from the polls — who never made it to the polls, whose polling places shut down, who had their absentee ballots rejected or the provisional ballots rejected — that their efforts weren't worth it. My responsibility is to ensure that the right to vote, the right to have that vote counted is sacrosanct. And, concession says that the system works perfectly fine. I do not believe the system works perfectly fine.”

"My job is to make certain that democracy works. That's why I stand for office. That's why I do the work I do. And a sore loser would whine and do nothing. I'm not whining. ... I'm also fighting for the system that we should have."

Stacey Abrams

On some Republicans calling her a “sore loser”

“I'm not a sore loser. I am someone who acknowledged, absolutely, that I did not win. But what I refused to say is that the system is just. The system has to work for, not the candidate, [but] it has to work for that mother who is in between shifts, and had to stand in line for four and a half hours, only to get inside to find that her name had been stripped from the rolls; the 92-year-old woman in Georgia who voted in every election since 1968, who was told she did not exist; and the tens of thousands of people who never bothered to show up because they lived in communities where they saw people arrested for trying to help their fellow citizens vote. Voter suppression is real. And the notion that I should not speak about it — lest I run the risk of not being able to run for office again — is anathema to me. My job is to make certain that democracy works. That's why I stand for office. That's why I do the work I do. And a sore loser would whine and do nothing. I'm not whining. I'm acknowledging the system as it is, but I'm also fighting for the system that we should have.”

On election interference from foreign adversaries  

“We acknowledge that voter suppression has two faces. One is what's currently been promulgated primarily by Republicans. But, I will say, voter suppression is non-partisan. Or, certainly, it's not the province of one party, although the Republican Party has been more aggressive and assiduous about doing so in the last 20 years. And if you trace the most egregious events of voter suppression, that has been recently under the auspices of Republicans.

"But, foreign interference is also very real. And that's why we focus on the three pillars: Can you register? Can you cast your vote? And can your vote be counted? And foreign interference often interferes with all three pieces: disinformation about registration, hacking when it comes to whether your ballot can be cast and whether it can be counted. That's one of the reasons we are trying to hold [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell accountable for his inaction on election security. We know that hacking machines happens. We know Georgia was one of one of the most vulnerable state. But, we weren't alone. And we believe that we have to call attention to voter suppression in all of its forms and do the work we can to forestall its effectiveness in the 2020 election.”

On whether she would entertain joining a 2020 presidential ticket

“I certainly would. I mean, I don't want to be coy. There are those who advised me against saying that out loud. But, the reality is, of course, the work that I want to see for America, the progress I want to see us make, I would be honored to be the running mate of the Democratic nominee. But, my responsibility is to do the work to make certain no matter who that nominee is, we have a president who actually values Americans and values America and is willing to work towards an international order that benefits us all. My next step will be determined after this cycle, because there are other jobs I may wish to stand for. But my focus has to be on making sure we preserve our democracy. And that means fighting voter suppression where it occurs.”

From The Reading List

The Guardian: "Stacey Abrams is fighting voter suppression – but how widespread is it?" — The former lawmaker Stacey Abrams – who energized Democrats in Georgia with her near-miss run for governor there – said this week that she would not enter the Democrats’ race to be the party’s 2020 presidential candidate.

"Instead she will be focussing on a new initiative aiming to protect voters in battleground states around the country, although she added she is open to being a running mate in a presidential bid.

"Abrams, who accused her ultimately successful Republican opponent Brian Kemp of voter suppression in Georgia’s gubernatorial race last year, launched the Fair Fight 2020 campaign, saying: 'There are only two things stopping us in 2020: making sure people have a reason to vote and that they have the right to vote.'

"Andrew Gillum, a former gubernatorial candidate for the Democrats in Florida, similarly earlier this year launched a big voter mobilization campaign in the crucial state, Bring it Home Florida.

"But what is the size of the challenge to tackle voter suppression?"

Washington Post: "Democrats, citing GOP-imposed voting restrictions, aim to flip secretary of state offices in five states" — "The Democratic Association of Secretaries of State is launching an initiative to try to wrest control of those offices from Republicans, who the group claims have used their power to make it harder for certain demographics to vote.

"Buoyed by successes last year in Arizona, Colorado and Michigan, the group has set its sights on flipping five more states in 2020. In addition to recruiting and supporting Democratic candidates, the association is planning a public education campaign on the importance of secretaries of state, who oversee the election process in most states.

"The offices of governor, U.S. senator and even attorney general tend to get more attention in statewide elections than that of secretary of state. But Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state and the head of the association, said Republicans understand the influence of the office and have used it unfairly to their party’s advantage.

" 'For all of the talk about taking back the White House and the Senate, all the important races that people tend to focus more on, in my mind it starts with making elections fair again,' Padilla said."

New York Times: "The End of the Polling Booth" — "We’ve been thinking about elections backward.

" 'The ballot belongs to the voter, not the government,' said Phil Keisling, the former secretary of state of Oregon. 'As long as it can be done with safety and integrity, it’s the obligation of the government to get it to me. It’s not my responsibility to qualify for it and get it.'

"Many states are taking that goal seriously, and to meet it, they are taking steps to abolish the traditional polling booth.

"Voting as a right should not be controversial. But in many places, election officials are trying to make voting more difficult. One example is Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp defeated Stacey Abrams by a sliver. At the time of the election, Mr. Kemp was secretary of state, overseeing voting, and rejected calls to resign and avoid a conflict of interest. Georgia purged thousands of voters from the rolls and threw out hundreds of absentee ballots. Some precincts had too few voting machines and hours when the machines were down. All of these issues disproportionately affected black voters.

"The success of this voter suppression is likely to encourage more Republicans to do the same. It’s very dangerous. But we should also worry about other states."

David Marino produced this segment for broadcast.

This segment aired on August 27, 2019.

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