WASHINGTON — Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams said Friday that “voter suppression … has to be considered the crisis of our day.” She made the comments in front of a Washington, D.C., audience where she cautioned Democrats to pay less attention to President Trump’s emergency declaration and to focus their energy on voting rights.
Abrams, who became a national figure during her 2018 run for governor in Georgia, said that whether or not she runs for the U.S. Senate in 2020, she will use her current platform to elevate the issue of voting rights and obstacles to voting.
“We have to talk more about it. We have to make this a larger conversation,” Abrams said during an interview with Jelani Cobb, a staff writer at the New Yorker, held at the Brookings Institution.
Abrams, 45, spoke a few blocks from the White House at the same time that Trump was declaring a national emergency to justify the rerouting of congressionally approved government funds toward the building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Her response to Trump’s emergency declaration put her strategist’s mind on display, as she cautioned Democrats against an overreaction, and offered a mild rebuke.
“He is trying to gain political clout, having failed miserably in the actual political process. And that political clout is only gained by us giving him air time and space and for there to be histrionics over once again his flouting of our basic norms,” Abrams said.
“It’s the prerogative of the president to declare an emergency,” she said. “It’s a question of whether he can unilaterally move funds. … That is where I believe we need immediate judicial intervention.”
Abrams added: “There is no emergency. It is a falsehood and it is entirely a political stunt.”
On Thursday night, Abrams put it this way: “There is necessary response but it doesn’t have to be public and it doesn’t have to be constant,” she said on “Late Night with Seth Meyers.” “We validate his behavior by treating it as serious. What we should treat it as is fraudulent and fraught with egotism, and that means sue him, let him lose and don’t give him the credibility of treating this as serious.”
On the issue of voting rights and voter suppression, Abrams said that “voter suppression … is baked into the DNA of America.”
“It has been perfected in recent years, in the last two decades, in a way that lets us forget that it’s real because there are so many pieces,” she said.
Abrams lost the 2018 governor’s election last year to Republican Brian Kemp. Kemp’s margin of victory was 55,000 votes out of 3.9 million cast. The election was marred by multiple allegations of voter suppression against Kemp, who oversaw the election in his role as secretary of state while also running for the state’s top office. Abrams called Kemp an “architect of voter suppression.”
Kemp, now the governor of Georgia, has dismissed Abrams’s charges and pointed to record-high turnout in last year’s elections.
But a lawsuit filed by Fair Fight Action, a group Abrams founded after the election, accuses Kemp of creating an “obstacle course for voters” that primarily affected counties with large numbers of poor and black citizens. The barriers to voting range from Kemp’s “exact match” system, which removed 53,000 voters from the rolls for minor discrepancies between their registration card and state records, to multiple problems with voting machines, insufficient paper provisional ballots, the closure of polling places in majority-black counties and an aggressive purging of the voter rolls by Kemp for years leading up to the election.
“What he did was entirely legal and wholly wrong,” Abrams said.
That’s a bit at odds with what the CEO of Fair Fight Action said in a December interview with Yahoo News. Lauren Groh-Wargo, who oversaw Abrams’s gubernatorial campaign, said then that the lawsuit could show that Kemp’s purging of the voter rolls was “at a scale that was illegal.”
When asked about this discrepancy, an official with Fair Fight Action said, “In a weird way, they’re both right.”
“Each individual action in Georgia was within the powers accorded [Kemp] by Georgia law. However, when they add together to an interlocking system of suppression, the sum of the parts disenfranchise voters and are therefore unconstitutional,” the Fair Fight official said. “We cannot say for sure he was following laws as they were meant to be followed. For example, you can technically purge voters if you believe they are not eligible voters anymore, but he wielded that power to the extreme and purged people who were eligible and just had not cast a ballot recently.”
After her event at Brookings, Abrams was slated to speak to the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting. She was also chosen by Democratic congressional leaders to give the party’s response to President Trump’s State of the Union address. And she is talked about as a potential candidate for president in 2020, though she is more likely to run for U.S. Senate against Republican Sen. David Perdue.
During her Seth Meyers interview, Abrams also explained why she thinks she has become a national figure.
“We’ve been practicing at democracy for a really long time. America gets it right most of the time, but when we stumble, it is really bad. And my belief is that we’ve got enough of us of good conscience who will fight to make it better. We just have to have someone willing to talk about it so we know we have a rallying cry and we have an opportunity,” she said.
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