Stacey Abrams on 2018 lawsuits: ‘We have the right to challenge systems’

Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s Democratic nominee for governor, joins Yahoo News National Reporter Marquise Francis to discuss her 2018 electoral loss and this November’s rematch with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. During the discussion, Abrams tells Yahoo News she heartily disagrees with an op-ed by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that compared her refusal to concede the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race to President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Abrams adds that she welcomes support from President Biden on the campaign trail.

Video Transcript

MARQUISE FRANCIS: Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger last October wrote an op-ed and said, basically, because you did not concede in the election for governor the first time around, people are now losing faith in Georgia's election process, and it even gave way for what Trump did. Do you think that's fair?

STACEY ABRAMS: Not at all. The difference is very stark. When I did not win my election in 2018, the first thing I said was that I acknowledged the-- I acknowledged the outcome that the new governor was Brian Kemp. I was not the governor. But I did say the system was broken, and Republicans agreed. They passed laws in the very next legislative session fixing many of the issues that we pointed out. They then didn't do more that needed to be done, so we took them to court. And unfortunately, in January of 2021, they decided to retrench because they didn't like the outcome of the next election.

I've never once sued to make myself the governor, not once. But I have sued to make certain that every Georgian has equal access to the polls, that they have the right to vote. And it is deeply concerning to me that a secretary of state doesn't understand the difference between the lies being told by Donald Trump and the truth that Republicans acknowledged in the complaints that we raised about the electoral system in Georgia.

MARQUISE FRANCIS: And so a lot of people like to be hung up on that concession, but do you regret not conceding at all?

STACEY ABRAMS: I know what I said. I acknowledged that he won, but I will never say that a system that is broken, that denied people their right to vote, is the right thing to have in the state. Part of democracy, part of the First Amendment, part of who we are as Americans, is that we have the right to challenge systems. Challenging a system isn't the problem. It is when you refuse to be a part of the solution or when you lie about what the challenges are.

We-- the lawsuit that our organization brought, that Fair Fight brought, took four months because of the number of witnesses that we had that the courts needed to see. So I'm very comfortable saying that the system that we challenged indeed had problems, continues to have issues. And I am proud that I was a part of pushing that forward. Language matters, and I was very careful in what I said in my speech. I've been very careful every day since. And the fact that one person wants to misconstrue what I've said in order to bolster his own belief system is not my-- it's not my fault.

But I will say this-- I hope that people don't give Brad Raffensperger credit because this is a man who, with one breath, is getting credit for not committing treason, but he was also the architect of SB 202 that is denying people use of drop boxes, that's denying people the equitable use of absentee ballots, is making it difficult for people to navigate the system, and is creating a pathway for election subversion. Those are truths, and this is an objective conversation that we have to have. If people find it difficult to vote, we need to do better. And my mission is to make it better.

MARQUISE FRANCIS: We know it's a fact. Republicans are making it harder for people to vote, right, especially here in Georgia. And like you mentioned, with SB 202, reduced the number of ballot boxes. But at the same time, there was a record number of people turning out in the primaries. And so I know you famously called it Jim Crow 2.0. And so do you feel as though the voting rights law was as bad as you said it was at the beginning?

STACEY ABRAMS: Absolutely. So let's understand, primaries are a snapshot. And we have seen increased participation in elections year over year in the state of Georgia. But the metric they're using is the wrong metric. Voter suppression isn't designed to stop all voting, it is designed to create barriers for some voters. And those voters indeed face barriers. They will still face barriers, especially in the general election.

But the more reductive way to put it is, just because more people get in the water, it doesn't mean there are fewer sharks. Those barriers are there. And as more people try to vote, they're going to face those barriers. The minute we get distracted by record turnout, we ignore the fact that if you are disabled, it is more difficult for you to cast a ballot now because it is more difficult to use the absentee ballot system. And this is not coming from me, this is coming from disability advocates.

If you are a student trying to cast a vote, it is more difficult for you to guarantee that your absentee ballot makes it home if you can't because you live in Columbus and you're going to school in Atlanta. We have to recognize that voter suppression is targeted, it is real, and it is going to be even more difficult because of SB 202.

MARQUISE FRANCIS: Would you support President Biden coming here to support you?

STACEY ABRAMS: Absolutely.

MARQUISE FRANCIS: And I just have to nip it in the butt because he came earlier this year, and you had a previous engagement. And so some folks were saying, whoa, is Stacey stepping back? You know, was it-- was there anything more to it?

STACEY ABRAMS: No. And I know people like to create news, create drama. It was a scheduling conflict, and it happens. This was an incredibly important issue. It remains a critical issue. I spoke to the president that day. I've met with the president since that time. He's the president of the United States. He is the president of the citizens of Georgia. And right now, the current governor is traveling the state taking credit for his success.

The billions of dollars that have come to the state are Biden dollars. They're Biden bucks. And while Brian Kemp seems to be very comfortable taking the money, he doesn't seem to want to give the credit. And my mission is to say to anyone who wants to lift up Georgia and lift up opportunity, you are welcome here to help me win this election.