Georgia is at the forefront of the partisan struggle for voting rights and the right to vote.
The Associated Press sat down this week with Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor in 2018 and a leading voice on ballot access, to discuss a sweeping new state law that will tighten some Georgian electoral rules after the Democrats passed the State in the 2020 elections.
The interview has been summarized for the sake of brevity:
AP: Please explain what you mean when you say that this new law makes it difficult for Georgians to vote, especially blacks and other Georgian minorities.
Abrams: In the 2018 and 2020 elections, early voting, personal postal votes and drop boxes were increasingly used. And these are all things that have been tightened. The change from (using) signature verification to using ID to submit your postal vote is a direct result of the lawsuits we filed to allow more people to vote by post.
These are (new) laws that respond to an increase in the number of people of color by restricting, removing or otherwise impairing their ability to access these conditions. It doesn’t mean that browns and blacks can’t choose. It just means we’re going to remove things that you’ve used to your advantage. We’ll make it harder for you to access these options.
AP: Governor Brian Kemp has confidently defended the law. It focuses on provisions like codifying weekend early voting and providing funds to release government IDs. Are some of these good steps assessed individually?
Abrams: This now gives them permission to shorten your early voting time. Instead of 7 (a.m.) to 7 (p.m.), it may now be 9 a.m. to 5 a.m. and the county must decide to give you more power. Previously it was assumed that anyone from 7 to 7 could vote. (Editor’s Note: Under old Georgian law, early voting would be held during “normal business hours,” even though most counties had longer hours. The new law provides a weekday window from before 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, but allows counties to get on to extend a 12 hour window.)
I reject any characterization that suggests that they gave something that wasn’t there. What they did are actually limitations.
When it comes to free ID, the idea that it is free is actually a misnomer. You may not have to pay a fee, (but) you will have to pay for the birth certificate, you will have to pay for any documentation that leads to your being able to obtain this ID. In particular for rural communities, which often have no transport or access to the DMVs that are not located on every street corner, there are costs. So voters have a very real cost of securing this ID.
AP: Do you support consumer boycotts and corporate reactions like Major League Baseball moving the all-star game out of Metro Atlanta?
Abrams: I grew up in the deep south. Boycotts are the reason I, as a free citizen, can make this point. I understand the impulse of boycotts, but I also understand that boycotts unfold differently depending on your goals and your schedule. I don’t think a boycott at this moment will benefit the victims of these bills. I believe it is absolutely essential that companies show their goodwill. They must publicly denounce these bills, they must support and invest in the expansion of voting rights, and they must support federal voting standards.
AP: Can you talk about how voting is rooted in your United Methodist belief, growing up with strong religious backgrounds, and both parents being clergy?
Abrams: I grew up in a family that not only believed in our beliefs as religious identity, but also in our beliefs as responsibility and lived experience. For me, defending the right to vote is not just about defending it for people of color. My push is to expand the franchise for any community facing obstacles, including the disabled, those returning citizens (released from prison), the poor, young people. Unfortunately, the destinations tend to be the same communities. And so my work is mainly about raising their votes and protecting their right to vote.
AP: Conclusion: Could the Democrats have won in Georgia in 2020 under these new rules? Could you win a gubernatorial race if you run again?
Abrams: I think it is possible for Democrats to win … but I will say this: It is wrong for a state to exclude access, especially under the guise and under the blatant lie that this is an enlargement. … We shouldn’t think about these laws when it comes to who can win an election, except to the extent that Republicans play the system because they’re afraid of losing an election.
AP: The upcoming Washington Democratic election laws wouldn’t replace everything in state law, but how much could they mitigate the negative impact you see in state action?
Abrams: It would standardize the laws so that our democracy doesn’t depend on our geography. Congress (can) say that we will have a standardized electoral system that guarantees automatic voter registration, early personal voting and apologetic postal voting. These three pieces alone offer voters, regardless of race and geographic location, an equal opportunity to vote in our elections.
AP: Can you see Democrats pass voting changes without changing the Senate filibuster rule? And how do you notice when President Biden says the filibuster is a holdover from the Jim Crow era, but that he doesn’t necessarily support abolishing the rule entirely?
Abrams: While I am disappointed with Senator Joe Manchin’s recent statement that he is unwilling to make changes to the filibuster, I believe in his good intent that we should be able to get bipartisan support. … I believe that there is a legitimate argument that an exception to protect the fundamental rights of democracy and to participate in democracy deserves an exception for the filibuster. I can understand the reluctance to scrap it completely, including the hesitation expressed by the President, because the concern is that if you remove it completely, you will no longer have any control over what can happen. Although it was used by avowed racists in the South to block civil rights, its original intent was not necessarily based on pathetic racism.
AP: But do you see a scenario where the voting legislation gets 10 Republican votes to be passed under the current filibuster rules?
Abrams: I think it’s unlikely. (But) I am a woman of faith. So my approach is to pray for what I need but work for what I think needs to be done.
AP: It is assumed that you will run for governor again next year. Is there a timeframe in which you will publish your decision?
Abrams: I’m not thinking about it right now. My focus is on ensuring that we can hold elections (with) full participation in 2022. I also work through my organization, Fair Count, to ensure that anyone eligible for (COVID-19) vaccination can get it, especially in the underserved southwest, rural area of Georgia. We’re also working on COVID recovery as part of the Southern Economic Advancement Project to ensure the recovery includes repairing the public health infrastructure so broken in the south.