On the Shoulders of Giants: Stacey Abrams

The days leading up to the Georgia gubernatorial election in 2018 were a tense time for American democracy. As the votes were counted to determine who would lead the state for the next four years, the margins grew thinner and thinner. Hours went by, lines at polling places grew longer, and the people became desperate for results. Finally, it was announced that Stacey Abrams, former member of the Georgia House of Representatives and voting rights activist, lost the election to former Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Leading by a mere 55,000 out of the four million votes cast between the candidates, the election shed a spotlight on the weaponization of voter suppression in American democracy.

Voter suppression is nothing new to the US. It began as an attempt by confederate states to keep minority groups powerless after the Civil War. Poll taxes and literacy tests resulted in Black people remaining unable to vote, and thus staying politically powerless. While today, the constitution protects everyone’s eligibility to vote, Abrams claims that politicians have still found ways to prevent minorities from casting their ballots. She has dedicated her platform to educating those who have been affected by voter suppression. Inspired by her loss in 2018,

Abrams has spoken frequently in interviews on the danger of the unreasonable conditions at polling stations that are pushed by Republicans. Leading up to the election, she recalled Kemp’s cancellation of 1.4 million voter registrations in the mere eight years he served as Secretary of State. In addition, he oversaw almost half of Georgia’s polling stations leading up to the 2018 election. This overloaded the polling places and resulted in voters being forced to wait for hours. Abrams stated in an interview with MSNBC, “It is a poll tax when someone has to risk the entire day’s wage in order to cast a ballot. … That is not only disproportionate voter suppression, it is a violation of who we are as a nation.”

In the aftermath of the 2018 election results, Abrams delivered a speech admitting defeat, stating, “Citizens tried to exercise their constitutional rights and were still denied the ability to elect their leaders.” She went on to say, “Democracy failed Georgia.” This election initiated a nationwide conversation on modern-day voter suppression and how politicians cheat the system in order to maintain power. Abrams became even more compelled to continue fighting for voting rights, holding fundraisers and participating in protests such as the annual Selma to Montgomery March. She has been widely credited for a dramatic increase in voter turnout in both Georgia and the 2020 presidential election. 

In the 2020 presidential election, Georgia flipped to become a blue state for the first time since 1992. Black voters in Georgia had the largest surge in registration of any racial group since 2016, with an increase of approximately 25 percent. Abrams has proved to be a crucial part of dismantling accessibility barriers for those affected by voter suppression, and continues to transform American democracy.

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