Angry Democrats look to settle score in Georgia after 'voter suppression denied Stacey Abrams victory'

Secretary of state oversees voting and elections

Andrew Buncombe
Duluth, Georgia
Sunday 02 December 2018 20:15
'I don't think there's anything more serious' Democrat John Barrow on seeking voting fairness

On a day when it felt the rain would never stop, John Barrow was rallying his team for the final days of battle.

In a campaign office 20 miles north-east of Atlanta, he was talking like a high school American football coach in the movies, urging his team to believe in themselves.

He suggested the movies got it wrong; usually the better team won, regardless of what the coach said. “But politics is different,” he noted. “The team that wants it the most, will get it.”

Mr Barrow, a Democrat running to be Georgia’s secretary of state, is desperate to win. Last month, he and his supporters watched as Stacey Abrams and her progressive platform came close to bagging the governor’s race, despite allegations of systematic voter suppression. In a state considered strongly red, she came with one-and-half points of Republican Brian Kemp, the secretary of state, who was also overseeing the election but who refused to recuse himself.

As such, for Democrats, this week’s election for the official in charge of the state’s elections, feels like a chance to get even.

“They want our elections to have integrity, and they know integrity means doing it right without regard to party,” Mr Barrow told The Independent, of the people he had been speaking to.

“They don’t feel like they getting it now. They know they’ll get it with me. In fact, it’s our only chance to get it. They think it’s mighty important, and so do I.”

Stacey Abrams' new group sues Georgia officials to fix 'grossly mismanaged' election system

The centrist 63-year-old Mr Barrow, a former congressman, occupies a different spot on the political spectrum to Ms Abrams, 44, a former minority leader of the state legislature and a successful author of romance novels, who ran a platform that included expanding Medicaid, demanding a living wage, and stricter gun regulations. Had she won the hugely expensive and widely watched contest, she would have been the US’s first African American woman governor.

Mr Kemp, now Georgia’s governor-elect, opposed gun control, supported tougher immigration regulations and proposed introducing the most stringent abortion laws in the nation.

Despite their differences, Ms Abrams has used the power of her increasingly national profile to support Mr Barrow’s effort to give Republicans a bloody nose. In a call with reporters, she said Mr Barrow and Lindy Miller, who is running for the public service commission, were the right people for the job.

She said Mr Barrow believed in fair play and a fair fight, and was running on a bold platform of protecting the sacred right to vote. “He understands that rampant voter suppression on election day, and during early voting, disincentivised and disenfranchised [large numbers of Georgians],” she said.

Jon Barrow

Last week, a political action committee set up by Ms Abrams’ supporters filed a federal lawsuit against Georgia’s election officials, claiming that people’s constitutional rights were violated by gross mismanagement.

“This lawsuit is going to demonstrate, and prove in court, that the constitutional rights of Georgians were trampled in the 2018 elections,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, Ms Abrams’s campaign manager.

Ms Abrams never formally conceded the governor’s race, saying: “Concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede that.”

She later told NPR: “The totality of the errors made, of the gross mismanagement, of the incompetence – 1.5m people purged [from voter rolls], 53,000 [votes] put on hold, 3,000 denied the right to register as new citizens, long polling lines, misplaced provisional ballots – the totality of the issues demonstrates that there has been gross mismanagement of our elections.

“I’m not suggesting that I know I would have won, but I am saying that the results were unalterably made less safe and less secure because of the actions taken by the secretary of state.”

Susan Clymer, a member of the executive committee of the Gwinnett County Democratic Party, said many felt Ms Abrams had been denied victory by what happened. She said she herself had no proof of this, but she was certain Ms Abrams would have finished even closer to Mr Kemp – perhaps close enough to trigger an automatic recount – had the suppression not taken place.

She said she was convinced voter suppression had cost Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, who lost the race for Georgia’s seventh congressional district, that includes Gwinnett county, by just 433 votes. “I feel almost more angry about that, because I am from Gwinnet,” she said.

Mr Kemp and his official denied that voter suppression took place and defended the use of a strict voter ID regulation that requires the name on a person’s ID to exactly match that on the voter registration. A number of minority voters claimed they were turned away, because a middle name was present on one document, but missing on the other.

Todd Mascar, who was waiting at a tram stop to catch a ride to an ice hockey game, said he absolutely believed voter suppression took place. Mr Mascar, who is white, said Atlanta was a “bubble” and suggested that in rural counties, a lot of underhand behaviour likely played out.

“In rural populations, black people are considered second class citizens,” said Mr Mascar, who also said that he intended to vote for Mr Barrow.

One man who voted for Ms Abrams, an African American Atlanta resident, said he had experienced no difficulties in voting. He said it was possible that voter suppression took place but said people also had a responsibility to educate themselves about how to vote. It was no good complaining, he said, if you had moved house and were trying to vote in a a different district.

Mr Barrow’s opponent, Brad Raffensperger, a former engineer who currently serves in the Georgia legislature, has earned the endorsement of Donald Trump. His team failed to respond to several requests for an interview and recently he has held few public events.

Speaking to the Moultrie Observer, the 63-year-old said “the whole key to the election is getting your voters out to vote”.

He said he was committed to updating the state’s voting machines, which were bought in the wake of the 2000 ballot debacle in Florida, and. said he would consult with election officials in each of Georgia’s 159 counties if he won this week.

“I want a system so it works for a county of 1,000 people, 10,000 people or a million people,” he said.

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