Oct 27, 2022 - Politics & Policy

GOP scoffs at Stacey Abrams' voter-suppression warnings in Georgia

Photo illustration collage of Stacey Abrams surrounded by ballot elements.

Photo illustration: Maura Losch/Axios. Photo: Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Democrat Stacey Abrams is again raising concerns about voter suppression in Georgia, rejecting claims that record early turnout has undermined her criticism of the state's new Republican-crafted election law.

Why it matters: Abrams, who became a national voting rights advocate after her narrow 2018 defeat, is trailing GOP Gov. Brian Kemp in public polling averages. Her renewed warnings have drawn speculation that she is laying the groundwork to again question the fairness of the election.

  • Abrams' decision not to formally concede to Kemp in 2018 has provided fodder for Georgia Republicans who stood up to former President Trump in his efforts to overturn the results of the election in 2020.
  • But the Democratic nominee rejects comparisons to Trump as a false equivalency, saying she acknowledged Kemp's victory and never sought to overturn the results.

Driving the news: Georgia this week surpassed 1 million early votes cast — about double the total votes reported at the same time in 2018. But "more people in the water does not mean there are fewer sharks," Abrams has argued.

  • Republicans cite turnout and registration numbers as evidence that Democrats' arguments have no merit.
  • GOP officials also say claims of voter suppression undermine confidence in elections, just as Trump's baseless allegations of fraud did in 2020.

What they’re saying: "Don't fall for any politically driven stories of either voter fraud or voter suppression," GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Tuesday. "Follow the data."

  • Republican Gabriel Sterling, Georgia's interim deputy secretary of state, told Axios the early voting turnout dispels the voter suppression argument.
  • He also compares Abrams' claims to Trump's voter fraud rhetoric in 2020 and says he's worried she could be laying the groundwork to question the validity of the system — though he said that would be "more difficult for her now" than four years ago.

The other side: "Turnout does not dispel voter suppression. Suppression is about barriers to access," Abrams told reporters this week, pointing to the election law Georgia Republicans passed last year over Democratic opposition.

  • SB202 removed voters' ability to submit an absentee ballot request completely online by requiring a pen and ink signature, restricted access to absentee ballot drop boxes compared to 2020, and halved the window during which absentee ballots can be requested and submitted.
  • Abrams' campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo says the campaign hasn't made the same investments in absentee turnout that it did in 2018 because of new restrictions on the ability of third-party groups to send out pre-filled absentee ballot applications.

What we're watching: The Georgia law also specified an "unlimited" number of voter challenges can be brought at any time and requires counties to adjudicate them within 10 days.

  • Voting groups estimate the state has seen at least 80,000 challenges, which they warn could have a chilling effect at the ballot box.
  • The secretary of state's office has acknowledged there may be a need for a policy change to add a cutoff date by which challenges should be submitted.

Flashback: Following her 2018 loss, Abrams acknowledged Kemp won the election but said she wouldn't "concede," highlighting how Kemp did not step down from his then-post as secretary of state.

  • Abrams accused Kemp of "deliberate and intentional" suppression, which he has rejected as a "farce," and continued to claim she won as she launched her new voting rights nonprofit, Fair Fight Action. Kemp has pointed to a surge in voter registration numbers under his tenure. He managed the state's implementation of automatic voter registration.
  • Abrams also filed a federal lawsuit through Fair Fight in 2018 challenging the constitutionality of the state's system as a whole. A federal judge recently threw out the case.

Zoom in: At an Atlanta debate this month, Abrams said she will "always acknowledge the outcomes of elections." Abrams and Kemp signed the Carter Center's pledge to "acknowledge the legitimacy of the outcomes after the results have been certified."

  • Abrams' spokesman Alex Floyd reiterated that pledge, adding: "Meanwhile, her opponent Brian Kemp passed an anti-voter law in response to conspiracy theories and false claims of voter fraud and said he was ‘frustrated’ about the outcome of the 2020 election."

Between the lines: Refusing to concede has become a "playbook" for candidates on both sides, said Jennifer Morrell, a former elections official and partner at the nonpartisan Elections Group.

  • She declined to speak directly to Abrams’ claims or Georgia's voting policy but said: "For years there have been these unwritten democratic norms, and one of those has been conceding. But sometimes we forget those norms because we have watched people not lose graciously."
  • "It’s a problem regardless who does it," she said.

The bottom line: A January Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll showed just about a quarter of Democratic voters were not confident the state's 2022 election would be fair, compared to more than half of Republicans.

  • Glenna Jackson, an Abrams supporter from Canton, Georgia, told Axios that she believes Abrams was a victim of voter suppression in 2018 — and that if the Democrat loses in 2022, that will again be the case.
  • "I really do think it's voter suppression. Somehow, something's going to find a way," she said. But, if Abrams wins, "then everything has to be right."
Go deeper