Stacey Abrams Could Force Court Action on Voter Suppression (Updated)

According to the Associated Press, Stacey Abrams is considering a court challenge in the Georgia governors race.

Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, Abrams’ campaign chairwoman, is overseeing a team of almost three-dozen lawyers who in the coming days will draft the petition, along with a ream of affidavits from voters and would-be voters who say they were disenfranchised. Abrams would then decide whether to go to court under a provision of Georgia election law that allows losing candidates to challenge results based on “misconduct, fraud or irregularities … sufficient to change or place in doubt the results.”

The legal team is “considering all options,” Lawrence-Hardy said, including federal court remedies. But the state challenge is the most drastic. And some Democratic legal observers note Abrams would be dependent on statutes that set a high bar for the court to intervene.

The particulars are that Georgia could certify the election results on Friday, with Abrams being about 18,000 votes shy of forcing a runoff. As the AP article goes on to report, “Abrams would assert that enough irregularities occurred to raise the possibility that at least 18,000 Georgians either had their ballots thrown out or were not allowed to vote.” That’s a steep climb that doesn’t have a high probability of success. But here’s the quote that struck me:

“These stories [of poor and minority people not able to vote] to me are such that they have to be addressed,” said Lawrence-Hardy, who was among the army of lawyers who worked on the Bush v. Gore presidential election dispute in 2000. “It’s just a much bigger responsibility. I feel like our mandate has blossomed. … Maybe this is our moment.”

At this point it sounds like Abrams and her legal team haven’t made a decision yet about how to proceed. But the question they seem to be asking themselves is whether this is their moment. There are a lot of people who believe that the Republican strategy of voter suppression these last few years is reminiscent of the civil rights battles in this country’s history. As I documented previously, nowhere has voter suppression been more blatant than in the state of Georgia, especially under Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

* 2005 – passed one of the first, and strictest, voting identification laws in the country.

* 2010 – arrested black activists in Quitman, Georgia who undertook an absentee ballot push to boost black turnout. By 2014 the investigation ended without a single guilty verdict.

* 2012 – prosecuted a local black official in Douglas County for having violated the law by showing a new voter how to use the county’s electronic voting machine. She was acquitted in 2018.

* 2012 – targeted an Asian-American voter registration group with a three-year investigation that turned up almost nothing and yielded no charges.

* 2013 – shut down 214 polling place statewide; 8 percent of all polling places in Georgia. They’ve been disproportionately in rural, poorer, and blacker counties.

* 2014 – launched a fraud investigation into the New Georgia Project (Stacey Abram’s effort to register voters). The case was dropped in 2017 and the group was not charged with any wrongdoing. But 85,000 people who had been registered by the effort didn’t show up on the rolls.

A previous report from the AP documented that since 2012, Kemp’s office has cancelled over 1.4 million voter registrations, and nearly 670,000 registrations were cancelled in 2017 alone.

While we don’t know exactly what the Abrams camp will decide to do, that is the history of voter suppression in Georgia that requires a remedy—if not via a new governor then perhaps through the courts.

The commentary about this decision by Abrams is focusing on how dragging this race out will affect her future political career, either in Georgia or nationally. But when her lawyer Lawrence-Hardy starts talking about an expanded mandate and wondering whether or not this is their moment, it could be that they’re looking at something much bigger than one person’s political career.

Update 11/16/18 at 6:15 pm

Stacey Abrams has acknowledged that Brian Kemp will be certified as the winner of the gubernatorial election in Georgia. But she refused to concede because that would be to acknowledge that an action is right, true or proper and the voter suppression activities of Kemp were none of the above.

Pundits and hyper-partisans will hear my words as a rejection of the normal order. You see…I’m supposed to say nice things and accept my fate. They will complain that I should not use this moment to re-cap what was done wrong or to demand a remedy. As a leader, I should be stoic in my outrage and silent in my rebuke. But stoicism is a luxury and silence is a weapon for those who would quiet the voices of the people. I will not concede because the erosion of our democracy is not right…

Today I announce the launch of Fair Fight Georgia, an operation that will pursue accountability in Georgia’s elections and integrity in the process of maintaining our voting rolls. In the coming days, we will be filing a major federal law suit against the state of Georgia for the gross mismanagement of this election and to protect future elections from unconstitutional actions. We will channel the work of the last few weeks into a strong legal demand for reforms of our election systems in Georgia.

So there you have it. Abrams will take her race for governor off the table, but will be filing a lawsuit in federal court against the voter suppression efforts in Georgia. This is the moment.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .