Stacey Abrams Breaks Down Georgia’s (Latest) Election Meltdown

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Stacey Abrams. (Elijah Nouvelage / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Against the backdrop of a months-long pandemic and weeks-long uprising against police violence, Tuesday’s Georgia election debacle felt comparably apocalyptic. ‘complete meltdown’ screamed a banner headline in the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Social media was littered with photos of long lines, tales of broken voting machines, and complaints of citizens prevented from exercising their legal right.

I found myself wondering: Would the televised suppression galvanize action on voting access, even among white people, as police violence had hiked support for police “reform,” at minimum—because we could see it on television and Twitter? Or would it serve to discourage the mainly black and brown people denied access from even trying to vote in November, since, despite years of activism, we haven’t cleaned up our broken voting system, desecrating this sacred right?

Naturally, I turned for answers to the nation’s most prominent expert on the way Georgia disenfranchises its voters: 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who came within 57,000 votes of winning her race, and who many believe would have won without the voter suppression perfected by her GOP opponent, then–Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is now the governor. Abrams’s new book, Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose and the Fight for a Fair America, is a personal look at the obstacles she faced—the AJC estimates that Kemp’s decision to close many polling places and move others cost as many as 85,000 Georgians their ability to cast a ballot, more than his margin of victory—as well as a guide to mobilizing the new American electorate nationwide in November and beyond, the goal of the groups she founded last year, Fair Fight Action and Fair Fight PAC.

While current Secretary of State Brad Raffensparger is blaming mismanagement by urban counties for last Tuesday’s election meltdown, Abrams notes that his and Kemp’s chicanery has begun to hurt white suburban voters too, as some of them also suffered endless lines and ballot screwups. A GOP official in suburban Cobb County has even called on Raffensparger to resign over the debacle. “I have no confidence in this system, nor the leaders that are behind it,” said retired Marine Col. Mike Boyce. “And in my world, in the military, when you lose confidence in somebody, you replace them.” So far, Boyce doesn’t have a lot of Republican company, but Abrams believes he should.

Stacey Abrams Breaks Down Georgia’s (Latest) Election Meltdown 1

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“I want to frame it this way: When you break the machinery of democracy for some, you break it for everyone, and that’s really what we saw.”

Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Joan Walsh: In the book, you describe modern GOP voter suppression as “a nearly seamless operation.” But in Georgia last Tuesday, we saw all the seams—and worse! With so many people paying attention, how did so much go so wrong?

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