Abrams seizes on voting rights issues in rematch with Kemp
Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams (D) is putting a heavy focus on voting rights concerns in the hopes of mobilizing voters of color in her bid to defeat Gov. Brian Kemp (R).
Abrams’s leadership committee, One Georgia, this week held multiple events in the Peach State aimed at Black voters that hit Kemp over allegations of racially targeted voter suppression. The Democrat also recently launched an ad attacking Kemp over his support of election changes.
The moves come as Abrams, who has trailed Kemp in recent polls, looks to turn out Black and other minority voters, seen as a voting bloc key to helping her unseat the Republican governor in November.
“Black and brown voters are the arteries needed for political life of the Abrams campaign,” said Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright, founder and CEO of political consulting firm Blueprint Strategy. “She has to be very intentional about reaching those voters right away and maximizing the turnout among those voters.”
Over the past few weeks, Abrams has attended events aimed at communities of color around the state. Her goal is to continue building a diverse coalition ahead of the midterms — something she also tried to do in 2018. Working in her favor this time, though, are more than a million new voters.
The campaign is banking on those new voters, the effects of COVID-19, the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and other issues to encourage voters to show up for early voting — something that could help fight voter suppression tactics, Seawright said.
“It’s going to put momentum in the bank before Election Day,” Seawright said. “We know that, historically, there’s been efforts to hoodwink Black and brown voters on Election Day, so that early voting process gives us a layer of security and also an opportunity to really focus on those who have not turned out at that point.”
Early voting also lets the Abrams campaign get ahead of voter fraud claims, said Adrienne Jones, a Morehouse College assistant professor of political science and director of the historically Black college’s pre-law program.
“Their goal is to say, let’s get these votes in so that they’re clearly marked or so that if you need to cure your absentee ballot, you’ve done that,” Jones said. “If you need to get into the polls, and you need to go twice — because the first day you had to leave [the line] and go to work — at least you got in on the second early voting day and your vote was cast.”
While many have claimed voting suppression to be underway around the country, Abrams’s emphasis on early voting is particularly important in Georgia, said Seawright.
“There’s been an oversized effort to suffocate and suppress the votes of perhaps the most consequential and defining voting bloc in this generation of Black voters,” Seawright said. “These efforts to suppress and suffocate and silence our votes have all been birthed out of the turnout that Stacey Abrams produced in Georgia to give us two United States senators, and that’s why she wrapped her arms around mitigating and fixing this.”
Jones said part of the voter suppression tactics Abrams is fighting comes from S.B. 202, a bill Kemp signed into law in 2021. The law imposed ID requirements on mail-in ballots, eliminated paperless online ballot requests and limited drop box availability, among other things.
To fight these voter suppression efforts, Abrams’s campaign partnered with the Georgia Votes Coordinated Campaign to create a voter protection program and with the Voter Protection Hotline.
The program includes Election Day observers, early vote observers, count observers who monitor the processing or counting of absentee ballots or vote by mail and ballot cures, or volunteers who contact voters who have issues with their absentee ballot application or ballot.
Still, the discussion around voter suppression hasn’t been at the forefront of the election the same way it was in 2018, said Jones.
“In 2018, we had clear indicators that Gov. Kemp was suppressing votes, or at least making efforts to,” Jones said, referring to the 2017 actions by then-Secretary of State Kemp, whose office purged more than 340,000 voters from the state’s registration rolls.
But after Kemp refused to “find votes” for former President Trump in 2020, Jones said, it appeared Kemp wasn’t suppressing votes. Now, when concerns of voter suppression do come up, Kemp is able to push back.
This midterm cycle, Kemp has managed to maintain a solid lead over Abrams in most surveys. A poll from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Georgia News Collaborative released Wednesday shows Kemp leads Abrams 51 percent to 41 percent.
But some, like Seawright, say the polls don’t show the full story.
“Polls are simply a snapshot of the time, and they do not take into account some historical past patterns of voting history when it comes to the African American vote and voters of color in particular,” Seawright said. “They are a factor in the determining factors, but the only polls that matter in my viewpoint in the election for [Abrams] are the souls that she gets to the polls, both before the election for early voting and on election day.”
As part of encouraging higher turnout, members of Abrams’s campaign are visiting spaces they say have been targeted previously by Kemp for voter suppression.
One of those cities is Quitman, in Brooks County — a region the campaign believes to be critical to Abrams’s path to victory.
In 2010, then-Secretary of State Kemp launched an investigation after 12 Black candidates successfully organized and flipped the majority-white school board. Armed investigators were sent door-to-door to arrest and charge the newly elected board members — who became known as the “Quitman 10+2” — despite having no evidence of voter fraud. After four years, the charges were dropped.
But the investigation left a lasting impact, the campaign said, with some Black residents in Quitman never returning to the polls to vote.
In Abrams’s latest ad against Kemp, Diane Thomas, one of the Quitman 10+2, speaks about being targeted.
“Brian Kemp did not want other counties to know what we were doing,” Thomas says in the ad. “So he did whatever it took in Brooks County. He didn’t mind using intimidation, he didn’t mind saying that we were doing voter fraud, he didn’t mind using disenfranchisement. Education is power. Brian Kemp knew that. Brian Kemp knew that we had the key to winning an election. Brian Kemp knew that we were going to be the ones that changed the makeup of what elections look like. Brian Kemp used his power, used his position to destroy us.”
The ad ends with a reminder for early voting — and a number for the Voter Protection Hotline.
Kemp’s campaign denies any attempts at voter suppression.
“Stacey Abrams and her desperate campaign have already lost in court on their false claims of voter suppression, but that won’t stop them continuing to lie and fear monger to try and earn votes. Thankfully, Georgia voters are seeing through this garbage and rejecting Stacey Abrams’ radical agenda for our state,” Kemp’s press secretary Tate Mitchell said in a statement to The Hill.
Abrams has faced other hurdles recently in her public battle against the state’s alleged voter suppression.
Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled against the Abrams group Fair Fight, which had filed a lawsuit in 2018, shortly after her first loss to Kemp, alleging that Georgia had violated voters’ rights. Kemp and his allies applauded the judge’s decision.
Still, Abrams has signaled she’s not backing down. In an interview aired Thursday on journalist Kara Swisher’s podcast, the Democratic candidate argued the Georgia governor doesn’t deserve praise for refusing to bow to Trump’s pressure to help overturn the 2020 election results.
“What was the alternative?” Abrams said. “The alternative was committing treason. This was not an act of courage. He simply refused to commit treason.”