Closing The Gap

Stacey Abrams, after narrow election loss, vows to fight for voter rights

Georgia Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams takes the stage to declare victory in the primary during an election night event on May 22, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.
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Georgia Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams takes the stage to declare victory in the primary during an election night event on May 22, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Stacey Abrams catapulted into the national spotlight during a Georgia governor's race riddled with allegations of voter suppression. After a narrow loss to her Republican opponent Brian Kemp, Abrams refused to concede and claimed that democracy had "failed" the state.

Now, Abrams is channeling her anger over the defeat into a fight for voter rights in Georgia. After her loss, Abrams founded the voting rights group Fight Fair Action to promote fair elections and combat voter suppression. The group has sued Georgia officials over voting irregularities that it argues warped the election outcome.

Last week, Abrams told the audience at the Lesbians Who Tech summit in San Francisco that despite her loss, she's vowed to fix Georgia's "broken" electoral system. She highlighted that her campaign turned out record numbers of Latino, Asian and black voters, and increased youth participation rates by 139 percent. She also pointed out that in 2018, 1.2 million African-Americans voted for her, and that she received a higher percentage of white voters than President Barack Obama in Georgia.

Abrams officially lost by 55,000 votes against then-Secretary of State Kemp, who was also the senior state official overseeing election rules.

"On the day we had to end the campaign, the day of my non-concession speech — cause I don't concede," she said, to great applause, "on that day, I had to figure out what was next."

"I'm angry and sad, but I don't know how to be still anymore. I believe we can fix what is broken," she said.

Abram's Fair Fight Action filed the November lawsuit right after the election. It claimed that officials "grossly mismanaged" the election and deprived black and minority voters of fair participation by failing to send out absentee ballots on time, purging voter rolls and taking extreme measures to block voter registrations through the "exact match" policy.

The lawsuit said Georgia has a "history of neglecting its elections infrastructure and suppressing votes — particularly of people of color."

At the end of January, Georgia election officials called for the lawsuit to be dismissed. The House Oversight and Reform Committee is now investigating allegations of voter suppression against Kemp.

"Voter suppression, it works by convincing people in practice that they don't count," Abrams said on Friday. "It is designed to silence those voices, say that there are people that do not count."

"Voter suppression happens in every election, in every state. I need you all to talk about voter suppression all the time," she said. "We need to talk about voter suppression the way we talk about the Kardashians...with such insistence that people have to respond."

Georgia is seen as a potential battleground state in a 2020 presidential election where voter rights has become a national issue for Democratic candidates. There is speculation that Abrams will enter the presidential race, and she has said that she will decide by the end of March. But she has also met with top Senate Democrats to discuss a potential 2020 bid in Georgia.

"I can't go back and win 2018, but I can win 2020 and 2022," Abrams told the audience, adding, "Let's be clear — that was not an announcement."

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