Closing The Gap

How Stacey Abrams, LaTosha Brown and other Black women changed the course of the 2020 election

Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams waits to speak at a Democratic canvass kickoff as she campaigns for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris at Bruce Trent Park on October 24, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller | Getty Images

As the 2020 presidential election comes down to the wire, it's clear that Black women continue to be the Democratic Party's most powerful voting group.

Not only did 91% of Black women vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden according to NBC News exit poll results, but Black women have also been on the front lines of this year's election, working to ensure that all eligible voters have their voices heard at the polls.

In Georgia, Stacey Abrams, who ran for governor of the state in 2018, has been on the ground to ensure that voter suppression does not dictate the outcome of this year's election. Two years ago, she lost the gubernatorial race by less than 55,000 votes to Georgia's now-governor Republican Brian Kemp amid reports of voter suppression in the state. Between 2010 and 2018, it's reported that Kemp, who served as Georgia's secretary of state during that time, purged upwards of 1.4 million voters from the rolls, with many voter registrations being cancelled because a person did not vote in the previous election. Additionally, in 2018, 53,000 people had their registrations moved to "pending" because of the state's "exact match" law, which requires handwritten voter registrations to be identical to an individual's personal documents, The Atlantic reported. Of those 53,000, more than 80% of those registrations belonged to Black voters.

Representative Stacey Abrams speaks onstage at the National Town Hall on the second day of the 48th Annual Congressional Black Caucus Foundation on September 13, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Earl Gibson III | Getty Images

In a 2019 Vogue profile titled, "Can Stacey Abrams Save American Democracy?" Abrams told the magazine that after her 2018 loss she "sat shiva for 10 days" and then she "started plotting."

Part of that plotting consisted of her starting a voting rights organization called Fair Fight, which continued and expanded the work of the New Georgia Project she started at the end of 2013 that focused exclusively on increasing voter registration. This time, with Fair Fight, Abrams and her team focused on increasing voter participation, as well as education about elections and voter rights.

As a result of these efforts, it's estimated that more than 800,000 new people have registered to vote in Georgia since 2018, with Abrams telling NPR that 45% of these new voters are under the age of 30 and 49% are people of color. In addition, Abrams tells NPR that she and her team were able to get rid of the "exact match" policy before the 2020 election.

Similar to Abrams, LaTosha Brown, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund which works to increase voter registration and turnout and expand voting rights policies, used an election loss to fuel her desire to create change. In 1998, Brown ran for State Board of Education in Alabama's 5th district against incumbent Democrat Willie Paul. It was her first time running for office, and Brown tells CNBC Make It that the race was so close that it took seven days for the winner to be announced, with Brown losing by a little over 200 votes. Minutes after the election was certified, she said she received a call from the state's Democratic Party letting her know that 800 ballots had been found in a safe by the county sheriff. Brown says she was told that it was too late for the ballots to be counted. To fix the issue, she says she was told that she could seek legal action, but as a grassroots candidate, Brown says she didn't have the money to do so.

Though her opponent was a Black Democrat, she told the Alabama Political Reporter that she believes some of the votes were suppressed simply to "protect the establishment."

"I was so disappointed," says Brown, who now lives in Atlanta. "I realized after that experience that voter suppression was more common than we think it is. I kept talking to candidates and being part of elections where time and time again I would see that voter suppression was a strategy that was used often by many candidates and political parties to prevent people from voting or having their vote count."

Black Voters Matter Co-founder LaTosha Brown attends the United State of Women Summit on May 5, 2018, in Los Angeles, California.
VALERIE MACON | AFP | Getty Images

Today, Brown's Black Voters Matter Fund does work in Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Mississippi to ensure that Black communities are not only registered to vote but also understand the power of their vote. BVM also does work to advocate for the expansion of voting rights policies that include early voting, resistance to voter ID laws and a strengthening of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Leah Aden, deputy director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, refers to the Voting Rights Act as "one of the most successful pieces of legislation in our history," and says that the fight to uphold its protections are ongoing, especially following the 2013 Shelby vs. Holder Supreme Court decision. With this decision, states are no longer required to have voting changes pre-approved, including polling place changes, changes to candidate qualifications or changes to voter ID laws, says Aden. As a result, she says voter suppression has been on the rise across the country, particularly in states with large populations of Black and Brown voters. Since the 2013 Supreme Court decision, Aden has testified before Congress with Abrams and other community leaders to restore voter right protection laws throughout the country.

The 2020 U.S. presidential election is considered one of the most consequential in modern history, and poll numbers are showing that the efforts of Abrams, Brown, Aden and so many other activists are paying off with a record number of Black voters casting a vote. In states like Wisconsin and Michigan, where President Trump won in 2016, NBC News is reporting Biden as the projected winner after ballots were counted in cities with a high population of Black voters including Detroit and the greater Milwaukee area.  

In Georgia and Pennsylvania, where votes are still being counted, CNBC reported Friday that Biden has taken a lead in Georgia and Pennsylvania. If Biden wins Georgia, this will be the first time the state has backed a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992. Pennsylvania, which backed Barack Obama in 2012, voted in favor of Trump in 2016.

Regardless of the final outcome of the election, Black women, who tend to vote at higher rates than other groups, with 94% also voting in favor of Hillary Clinton in 2016, continue to prove that they're the Democratic Party's most loyal voting group.

As Congresswoman Maxine Waters told MSNBC's Joy Reid after Sen. Kamala Harris' historical VP nomination, Black women "have shown that not only will they vote, but they will get out the vote. [And] they will fight for the vote."

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