In national media and public speeches, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger often accuses Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams of doing the same thing as former Republican President Donald Trump: making false claims of stolen elections.
The complaint is part of a Republican strategy to undercut Abrams’ image as a champion for voting rights, supporters say, an attack that will become part of the 2022 campaign for governor since she announced her candidacy this week.
Though both Abrams and Trump refused to concede after they lost, their similarities on election integrity stop there.
Trump tried to invalidate the presidential election, while Abrams acknowledged her defeat in the 2018 governor’s race. Trump lost lawsuits over election results; supporters of Abrams have won court rulings to verify and count additional absentee ballots.
While Abrams said 10 days after the election that she wasn’t conceding, she also said in the same speech that Republican Brian Kemp was the victor. Trump only admitted he had lost the day after a riot at the U.S. Capitol as the Electoral College confirmed his defeat.
“Concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede. But my assessment is that the law currently allows no further viable remedy,” Abrams said in a speech Nov. 16, 2018. “Now, I could certainly bring a new case to keep this one contest alive, but I don’t want to hold public office if I need to scheme my way into the post.”
Raffensperger has frequently tried to conflate Abrams and Trump in recent months, suggesting she’s no better than the president who pressured him to “find” enough votes to overturn Georgia’s results in the presidential election. Raffensperger faces a Republican primary challenge from a Trump-endorsed candidate, U.S. Rep. Jody Hice.
Raffensperger said Abrams is spreading disinformation and undermining faith in elections when she promotes the idea that Georgians were blocked from voting in 2018.
Credit: Steve Schaefer
Credit: Steve Schaefer
“She’s been spreading that voter suppression myth now for going on three or four years,” Raffensperger told the Rotary Club of Marietta in October. “If you look at 2020, what you really saw was the flip side of that coin, and people talk about voter fraud.”
The kind of voting barriers that Abrams said she objects to did exist to some extent, though her loss by about 55,000 votes wasn’t in doubt after ballots were counted. There were long lines, poll closures, voter registration cancellations and “exact match” registration policies leading up to the 2018 election.
In contrast, Trump’s allegations of fraud in the election itself lacked substance. Investigations by the secretary of state’s office, the GBI and the FBI have discredited almost all fraud allegations. Three ballot counts showed similar results, with Democrat Joe Biden defeating Trump in Georgia by about 12,000 votes. Judges threw out dozens of lawsuits by Trump and his supporters.
“The biggest difference, obviously, is that Donald Trump continues to say that in fact he is the rightful winner of the election,” said Amy Steigerwalt, a political science professor at Georgia State University. “Stacey Abrams didn’t continue to suggest that she was going to be rightfully installed as governor or that all of the election results were going to be overturned.”
But Abrams’ critics say she created the blueprint for sowing doubt in election results with her constant emphasis on voting problems in a state with record turnout, automatic voter registration, no-excuse absentee voting and three weeks of early voting.
Republican consultant Chip Lake said Abrams set a precedent for raising questions about election integrity.
“What Abrams did and what some people on the right are saying is ‘stop the steal.’ I don’t know if there’s any difference,” Lake said. “That’s going to be problematic for Stacey.”
Abrams has said she felt comfortable saying “I won” even though she didn’t, according to a 2019 interview with The New York Times Magazine. Abrams said she believed the election wasn’t fair because of Georgia’s voting practices.
After Abrams launched her candidacy this week, Kemp didn’t attack her voting rights record. Instead, Kemp accused her of “woke politics” with a liberal agenda.
But voting access and restrictions will be an inevitable battleground issues in the campaign leading up to Election Day on Nov. 8, just as they were in the previous election for governor four years ago.
“Stacey Abrams presented facts based on voters’ real experience in trying to make their voices heard,” Abrams spokesman Seth Bringman said. “Unless voters have access to the polls, they won’t have confidence in the system, and that is the very confidence that Stacey Abrams sought to restore.”
Abrams has made voting rights her core issue throughout her career, and she has fought Georgia voting policies that Kemp supported, first as secretary of state and now as governor. More than three years after filing a lawsuit opposing Georgia’s voting policies, a trial is scheduled for February.
Meanwhile, Kemp has supported Georgia’s new voting law that reduced ballot drop boxes, increased voter ID requirements for absentee voting, changed absentee ballot deadlines and enabled state takeovers of county election boards. Nine lawsuits contesting the law are pending, including one filed by the U.S. Department of Justice.
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution