When I spoke to former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams about the perils voters might face in the upcoming presidential election, two words kept coming back to me: voter suppression.
Fairly or not, that phrase will be forever linked to Abrams’ legacy. Not because of what she did wrong in her political career, but because of what she did right. Abrams, a lawyer who rose to become minority leader during her decade in Georgia’s House of Representatives, resigned in 2017 to run for governor. Her campaign was a long shot. After all, a Black woman couldn’t possibly become governor of Georgia, where Confederate generals are carved into a mountain and the legacy of slavery is carved into the soil.
Yet, by October 2018, Abrams, a Democrat, was polling slightly ahead of her Republican opponent, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Abrams was in the midst of a potentially history-making political feat, and the race gained national attention. There was just one thing standing between Abrams and her unlikely victory: voter suppression.
Abrams’ experience matters now more than ever. Just like her race for governor was shaped by voter suppression, the presidential election is being shaped by a multipronged effort to muddy the electoral waters and discredit the results. Right now, the president of the United States is loudly claiming that mail-in voting is fraudulent. He’s saying that there will be robbing, thieving, and stealing at the polls. He’s even telling his supporters that he will only lose if the election is rigged.
That kind of rhetoric is dangerous when it’s false. But in Abrams’ case, her opponent’s attempt to steal the election was even more dangerous — because it worked.
“We know that the secretary of state, my opponent in the race, had spent eight years in the role of oversight of the election and during his tenure,” Abrams told me. “He purged more than 1.4 million voters, he oversaw the closure of 214 precincts, which according to independent analysis meant that between 50 and 85,000 people physically could not reach a place to vote.”
“We know that under his leadership, we saw 53,000 people who had their voter registrations held hostage using a discredited system called ‘Exact Match’ that the Obama administration had warned was racially discriminatory,” Abrams continued. “And in [Kemp’s] case when he used it, 80% of the people who were held hostage were people of color. Seventy percent were Black. And he ran the election. And I would just challenge anyone to think of a single event where the person in charge of counting the votes — in charge of the score — also got to be the referee and the contestant.”
Abrams, who now runs a national voting rights organization called Fair Fight, tells her story matter-of-factly, without a hint of resentment or malice. She’s poured the sting of the loss into making sure that others can vote. She’s poured the truth of her experience into a book called Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America. Now she’s putting her influence behind the candidacy of Joe Biden.
I can understand why Abrams has taken that stance. As we now know from the tapes shared by journalist Bob Woodward ahead of the release of his book, Rage, Donald Trump has repeatedly lied to the American people about a virus that has killed nearly 200,000 of us. He’s supported monuments to the Confederacy, stoked racial tension, and tried to discredit mail-in voting to muddy the electoral waters.
But I wanted to know why Abrams thought Black folks, in particular, should support Biden, absent the calamity that is Donald Trump. I wanted to know what Abrams thinks Biden will do for my community.
Abrams said Biden has a long history of standing with the Black community, that he’s clearly articulated what he wants to do when he gets the job, and that while we might want to separate Biden from Trump, it’s impossible to look at either of them in a vacuum.
“More than anything else, it’s about us,” she said. “Because I don’t elect saviors. I don’t elect people because I believe they’re going to save my life. I vote for people because they’re going to believe in my community, and Joe Biden has never taken the Black community for granted, and he won’t when he becomes president of the United States.”