On October 11, Stacey Abrams made appearances at two downtown Athens bars, Hendershot’s and Wayward Lounge. During her two speeches, Abrams spoke out against her Republican counterpart, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp.
“I know a lot of you have heard about the 53,000 voters who’ve had their voter registrations paused,” said Abrams referring to a recent Associated Press report that Kemp has stalled over 53,000 voter applications through his “exact match” policy. As Secretary of State, Kemp’s office oversees Georgia elections, including his own run for governor.
Kemp’s policy states that all voter registration information must match drivers licenses, state ID cards or Social Security records. According to Georgia law, registrations can be placed on hold because of a missing hyphen, an extra space, or the use of a nickname in official government records.
When one of these restricted voters casts a ballot, they may not ever know if their vote gets counted or not. Voters can check their voting status by visiting the state’s My Voter Page. If a person who registered to vote does not appear in that database, their voting rights are on hold, likely due to Kemp’s policy.
A spokeswoman for Kemp, Candice Broce, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “The 53,000 Georgians cited in the complaint can vote in the November 6th election.” While this is true, none of these voters are certain if their vote will actually be counted.
According to the lawsuit filed by civil rights groups, over 80% of pending applications were submitted by minority groups. Around 70% of the pending applications are from African-American citizens alone. They claim that the exact match policy is in direct violation of the Voting Rights Act, the 14th Amendment, and the 1993 Voter Registration Act.
Abrams noted that this is not the first time she has challenged Kemp’s voter registration restrictions.
“In 2014, as the leader of the New Georgia Project, we set out to start registering 800,000 unregistered people of color. I first tried to work with the Secretary of State, his name is Brian Kemp. I called him, he actually sent staff over to help us,” said Abrams.
However, that assistance quickly turned into suppression.
“We followed their directions so effectively that we registered more than 80,000 people. But then we found out that he was refusing to process over 40,000 of them,” Abrams said to a packed house at Hendershot’s.
Abrams then went to state and federal court, challenging the secretary of state’s actions. After a three year battle, a federal court ruled that voting practices conducted by Kemp’s administration were unethical.
“By 2017 he [Kemp] was forced to restore 34,000 illegally canceled [voter] registrations,” said Abrams.
This election cycle, Abrams says that Kemp’s attempts to block citizens of color from voting will not work.
“We have a secret weapon. You see I’ve met the Secretary of State, I’ve fought him, and I know what his tricks are. He’s a one trick pony when it comes to voter suppression. And that trick is not going to work this time,” she told the energized crowd.
Abrams gave her solution to the 53,000 pending voters. “There are 1.9 million eligible registered Democrats who do not vote. But if we get them to vote, the 53,000 will have their voices lifted to the heavens, and to Atlanta, and we will win this election,” said Abrams.
Among the hundreds in attendance at Hendershot’s was Cedar Shoals receptionist Ms. Pearl Hall.
“I enjoyed the event, meeting Stacey Abrams because I’ve always looked forward to meeting her. I thought the crowd was very enthusiastic and she spoke very well,” said Hall.
Hall said that what stuck with her following the speech was that, “Everybody should vote.”
Among the frustration Abrams showed surrounding the reports of Kemp’s disenfranchisement of a cross-section of the population that is largely black, Hall says the most powerful message of the event was positive.
“People need to be more patient and understanding, regardless of who you are, to care for and love everybody,” said Hall.