Georgia could give its 16 electoral votes to a Democratic president for the first time since 1992.
If that happens, it will have a lot to do with Stacey Abrams.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has a small lead in the state by about 1,500 votes, with 99 percent of votes in. The state says it plans to call for a recount. Even if Georgia doesn’t go to Biden, it will have been a historically tight race in a longtime conservative state.
Just days after losing Georgia’s gubernatorial election in 2018, Abrams launched Fair Fight Action, an organization dedicated to increasing voter turnout by combating voter suppression, an issue that Abrams has focused on throughout her career. She also filed a lawsuit against the state for what she called a “grossly mismanaged” 2018 election, fraught with allegations of voter suppression that disproportionately impacted people of color. Her opponent, now-Gov. Brian Kemp, oversaw that election as secretary of state, famously purging hundreds of thousands of voters from the state voter rolls, removing many of those because they had not voted in recent elections, according to an APM investigation.
“When you’ve been suppressed and repressed for so long, you start believing that you can’t win, that your vote doesn’t matter,” said Rosaia Shepard, a volunteer with Fair Fight in Atlanta. Through Fair Fight, Shepard said, Abrams showed Georgia Democrats — particularly low-income people and people of color — that “it can be done.”
Abrams helped people in Georgia to recognize various forms of voter suppression, said Shepard: purges from voter rolls, long lines at polling stations and requests for voter identification, which can often be obtained only by taking a day off work to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
“Most of us understand voter suppression as the 1960s images of billy clubs and hoses and dogs barking — aggressive interference,” Abrams told NPR in February. “But in the 21st century, voter suppression looks like administrative errors. It looks like user error. It looks like mistakes. But it is just as intentional and just as insidious.”
While voter suppression exists everywhere, it’s particularly bad in Georgia, said Carolyn Bourdeaux in an interview in October. Bourdeaux, a Democrat who won her race in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, ran in 2018 in what turned out to be the closest U.S. House race in the country. At the time, she says she was stunned by the voter suppression she witnessed in her district. In the heavily Democratic Gwinnett County, many ballots were thrown out because voters had signed the envelope with the current date, rather than their date of birth.
“We came to realize that Gwinnett County had been strictly interpreting that for quite some time,” Bourdeaux said. In Forsyth — a neighboring county that is mostly Republican, also in the 7th District — voters would be notified if they made this common mistake, Bourdeaux said. But in Gwinnett, no one would give you the opportunity to correct the error.
Abrams has had a significant impact on these kinds of issues, said Bourdeaux.
Through a massive network of volunteers, she orchestrated powerful texting and social media campaigns, where family and friends would educate one another about voter suppression. She also trained large numbers of grass-roots volunteers to be on the lookout for violations that could be taken to court.
“They call us ‘Democracy Warriors,’ ” Shepard said.
As results have trickled in from Georgia throughout the week, many have emphasized the role Abrams has played in Democrats’ success in the state.
On Friday, Georgia Democrats were celebrating, said Shepard. Walking around her neighborhood, she said, she saw doors flung open, with music blasting. Her phone keeps buzzing, she says, with friends texting to say, “Oh lord, what a morning.”
Everyone recognizes that this couldn’t have happened without Abrams, Shepard says.
“The Republicans fought her at every turn, but Lord God, that woman is a force of nature."
Fair Fight has already extended its efforts to states across the country, expanding to other places where voter suppression is rampant. Shepard says she looks forward to working on these issues in communities that need them. But this morning, she says, she is focused on her home state.
“Today Georgia is going blue, baby,” said Shepard. “And that’s a really big deal.”