After losing by less than 55,000 votes to current Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) in 2018, Stacey Abrams is now running to unseat him in 2022. A champion of voting rights, founder of Fair Fight and former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, Abrams is vying for the Peach State’s executive chamber. During his tenure as governor, Kemp has enacted multiple voter suppression laws, including omnibus legislation, Senate Bill 202, most known for its ban on providing food and water to those waiting in line to vote.
In Democracy Docket’s latest candidate Q&A of the 2022 cycle, Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams outlines how she would mitigate the effects of S.B. 202, explains why it is wrong to lionize politicians like Kemp for refusing to overturn the 2020 presidential election and reveals the most underrated fact about the state of Georgia.
Responses have been edited for style and clarity.
Enacted in 2021, S.B. 202 is in effect — for the first time — in this year’s 2022 midterms. As we look to November, which provisions of this law concern you the most?
What is most concerning is the false narrative that the bill does not have an impact. We know that high turnout is not correlated with voter suppression, and we know that, already, mail-in ballot rejection rates are higher than they were in previous elections. I am deeply concerned that absentee ballots may be more difficult [to cast] because people are accustomed to their normal voting routines, including seniors who don’t know the new rules. We also know that drop boxes, which became part of voting in 2020 and 2021, have dramatically decreased. It’s affecting more than 1.9 million Georgians. I find it shameful that Kemp and others who brought us this anti-voter law are manipulating the law and making it into a cause for celebration. High voter turnout in the primary, while good, is not indicative of how deeply ineffective voting could be for so many because we’ve barely scratched the surface. A primary is not reflective of what will happen in the general, and their narrative is illogical and self-serving. We have to use democratic participation as a proof point that we can fight back. But we cannot be willed into believing there is no problem just because there was high turnout in the May primary.
What would be your first action as governor to mitigate S.B. 202’s impact?
I would put legislation forward to rescind major portions of it. Making it more difficult to vote by mail serves no purpose other than slowing the effects that we saw among communities of color and young people who were able to participate more fully in elections for the first time in 2020, 2021 and 2018.
I would work hard to make certain that drop boxes actually serve their purpose, which is that they make [voting] more accessible for those who are returning their ballots. I would also pay special attention to the implications of these voting laws on our disabled communities. They are the most likely to be cross sectional and intersectional and left out of voting discussions. And yet they are one of the largest invisible portions of our population when we discuss voting laws. I want to make certain that every Georgian who is interested in voting and eligible to vote has the ease of voting. It should not be controversial to want voting to be accessible. And unfortunately, under the current administration, it has been turned into this notion that by making it more difficult, you’re somehow improving democracy, and nothing could be further from the truth.
In addition to vetoing harmful bills passed by the Republican-led Legislature, if elected as governor, what tools would you use to protect the right to vote?
Hopefully when I’m elected, I will be serving with our new secretary of state, [State Rep.] Bee Nguyen (D), and the first step will be to improve voter registration practices and making certain there are proper safeguards. I would support counties to ensure that voting is convenient, which means increasing, through the budget process, the resources they have available. I would work to end the arbitrary rejection of ballots, and since the governor signs legislation for redistricting, I would stop gerrymandering at the state and local level. Those are all actions a governor can take and they can have seismic effects on the ability of Georgians to govern themselves using the democratic process.
Since 2020, right-wing organizations like True the Vote have employed voter intimidation tactics and in April, your opponent, Kemp, signed into law a bill that empowers the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to investigate election crimes. Why do you think Republicans are so intent on criminalizing the voting process?
Kemp actually told us. In one of his debates against [former U.S. Sen.] David Perdue (R-Ga.), Kemp said that he changed the voting laws in Georgia because he didn’t like the outcome of the federal elections in 2020 and 2021. This had nothing to do with concerns about election security. We had the most investigated elections, I think, in the nation. [When it comes to] the issue of election crime, the GBI has pointed out that there were no crimes committed. The issue was one of intimidation. We saw this play out in New Jersey in the 1980s, which is why, for 40 years, Republicans were precluded from officially and formally engaging in the type of voter intimidation tactics that we are seeing crop up across the country and that has been, unfortunately, honed by True the Vote and similar organizations.
We must have a governor who believes that the right to vote and access to the right to vote belongs to every voter, and sadly and repeatedly, Brian Kemp has proven he is not that person. Let’s be clear: His failure to commit treason in 2021 does not make him a hero. He has been lionized for one action that was not treasonous, but his willingness to deny access to the right to vote to millions of Georgians should never be forgotten. His continued behavior signals that, should he be reelected, he will continue to restrict access to the right to vote, criminalize those who are simply trying to use their democratic rights and do everything in his power — should the Moore v. Harper decision come down from the U.S. Supreme Court — to limit access to voting rights throughout the state of Georgia.
The Jan. 6 hearings shined a spotlight on people like Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers (R) and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) for refusing to help overturn the 2020 presidential election in their states. With your opponent, Kemp, falling into that category too, what do you say to people, especially Democrats, who are now lionizing these politicians?
That this is the lowest bar in a democracy, not committing treason. You should not be congratulated for simply doing your job, and their willingness to withstand the political pressure is something that Democrats and Republicans have done for centuries in this country. The absurdity is that we have people who are now giving them credit for intending good for the very people they work to strip powers from. The architect of S.B. 202, a law that denies access to water in a line, is driven by the same imprimatur that led Brian Kemp to arrest some 10 people in Quitman, Georgia, for the temerity of electing Black people to the school board. They had been arrested and incarcerated knowing they had done nothing wrong. Brian Kemp is no hero. Brad Raffenspberger is no hero. They are architects of voter suppression, and they should not be congratulated for doing their job. They should be held accountable for not doing their jobs for every Georgian.
In 2018, you lost by just under 55,000 votes to Kemp. Two years later, Georgia turned blue by a small margin when President Joe Biden won the state and then sent now-Sens. Jon Ossoff (D) and Raphael Warnock (D) to Washington in January 2021. What do you think changed since your last run for governor and what does this trend mean for Democrats in Georgia going forward?
I spent more than a decade working assiduously on expanding access to the right to vote in Georgia because I believe in our democracy. But, what we know is that electing Democratic governors in 2022 is critical to saving our democracy. We have seen that the Supreme Court intends to delegate constitutional authority to state legislators and to governors, and that the power to restrict fundamental rights, such as reproductive rights and voting rights, will belong to governors.
What’s different now than it was in 2018 is that people are aware of the threat to our voting rights. But they’re also experiencing the very real consequences of dangerous and extreme politicians like Brian Kemp, who not only control access to the ballot, but also control access to abortion. Georgia has a six-week abortion ban that is the law of the land, making it a crime to seek abortion care before most women know they’re pregnant. And they will be able to not only solidify that law, but expand on it because of voter suppression. We tend to isolate and silo the behavior, but this is a comprehensive attack on democracy and the rights that democracy protects. What is different in 2022 and what I need people to understand is that while the economic challenges are real, so is the attack on our rights. Electing people who do not believe in your rights does nothing for your economic welfare when the rest of your welfare is, unfortunately, oppressed and repressed and suppressed.
Favorite way to vote?
I like going in person on Election Day. Recently, I’ve had to vote either early or by mail. I like them all, but I prefer to vote on Election Day in person.
What was the first election you voted in?
When I turned 18, the primary in 1992 was my very first election.
Go-to walk up song?
I love Freedom by Beyoncé.
Most underrated fact about Georgia?
Georgia is the most diverse state in the Deep South, and that diversity is why we are such an exciting place to live. We are the epitome of not just a melting pot, but how diversity is a superpower. And we have amazing pie.