On Census Day, Stacey Abrams advocates for a 'fair count’

Former candidate for governor Stacey Abrams speaks at Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church during Selma's re-enactment of Bloody Sunday on Sunday, March 1, 2020, in Selma, Ala.  Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / AJC

Credit: Curtis Compton / AJC

Former candidate for governor Stacey Abrams speaks at Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church during Selma's re-enactment of Bloody Sunday on Sunday, March 1, 2020, in Selma, Ala. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Stacey Abrams kicked off National Census Day by participating in a wide-ranging interview that focused on her multi-state Fair Count campaign but also touched on Georgia’s upcoming elections, the death of Joseph Lowery and, of course, whether she is still interested in serving as the eventual Democratic nominee’s vice president.

Abrams, who narrowly lost her bid to become Georgia's governor in 2018, appeared by video for a virtual news conference sponsored by the National Press Club adapted from what was initially scheduled to be an in-person visit before changes implemented during the coronavirus pandemic.

She began by criticizing remarks by President Donald Trump, who during an interview on Fox News Monday said that vote-by-mail proposals Democrats had tried to include in a recent stimulus bill would have meant America "would never have a Republican elected in this country again."

That is the wrong way of thinking about the long-term effects of increasing access to voters, said Abrams, who lives in Atlanta.

“It’s deeply troubling that President Trump and his advisers believe that gaming the system is more important than supporting a system that bring everyone to the table,” Abrams said. “Voter suppression begins by believing that power is more important than people.”

As far as the census, Abrams said her Fair Count organization is working in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida "because these are states where no state funding has been allocated to help with the census."

An accurate census will ensure the proper apportionment of congressional seats across the states and how political lines are drawn for elected offices at the national, state and local levels. She said that $1.5 trillion in federal funding, mostly for safety net programs, are allocated nationwide based in part on census data.

Lack of information, lingering distrust because of the citizenship question that has since been removed from the census survey and the impact of coronavirus all are threats to an accurate census count, Abrams said.

“Because of that, we have to be even more diligent about outreach and about lifting up the importance of the census,” she said.

Other highlights from her speech and the question-and-answer period that came after:

On making sure people fill out their census surveys even during the coronavirus pandemic: "This is an opportunity to lift up a story that is not being told the census is so critical to how we live our lives, and it is a direct connection to what's happening today in America. The issue of whether we are prepared -- whether our communities, our public health systems are ready to respond to the crisis -- that in large part has to do with how the census was conducted a decade ago. If we don't have an accurate count, we cannot plan for crises; we cannot plan for pandemic."

On whether COVID-19 could affect elections turnout: "I supported the move of the primary to May 19 because we were not prepared. And it gives us an opportunity for the states to send out mail- in ballots, which we believe are the gold standard for how voting should happen not only in primaries but the general election."

On the importance of having a woman on the Democratic ticket: "I think it's essential, and I'm very pleased that Vice President Biden has lifted it up as a hallmark. Women are not only more than half of the voting population, but they are an essential part of how leadership happens."

On whether she has spoken to Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders about being their running mate: "I have not."

On whether she has decided to endorse either candidate: "I have not."

On whether she would serve in the Cabinet if a Democrat is elected president: "I certainly would consider any opportunity to serve."

On the death of civil rights leader Rev. Joseph Lowery: "This is a man whose entire life was dedicated to the notion that we are all God's children. And that regardless of your faith, regardless of your politics that you deserve a place in society and that that place should be lifted up. But more than anything he believed that the poor should be first."