Former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is still coughing out the bitter aftertaste of her narrow loss in an election that was rife with flagrant voter suppression tactics. Not coincidentally, the most blatant evidence of this suppression was found in voting districts with large percentages of African Americans.

Abrams, 45, was testifying as part of the U.S. House of Representatives’ congressional subcommittee on Tuesday that was looking into rampant voting irregularities across the country, but especially in Georgia and Florida with two historic Black gubernatorial candidates.  

Abrams said during the latest election cycle there was a noxious combination of “incompetence and malfeasance” by her opponent that led to an outbreak of voter suppression in Georgia.

“Incompetence and malfeasance operate in tandem and the sheer complexity of the state’s voting apparatus smooths voter suppression into a nearly seamless system that targets voter registration, ballot access, and ballot counting,” Abrams told the congressional panel. “These hurdles have had their desired effect.”

There were more than 200 polling precincts that were closed in Georgia, more than 53,000 registrations that were suspended and untold thousands of voters were purged from the rolls in the election cycle that ended in November 2018. Abrams lost the election to then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp by a little more than 1 percent, 50.2-48,8 (1,978,408 – 1,923,685), which makes these issues even more staggering in scope.

The House subcommittee held a field hearing at the Carter Center in Atlanta as part of an ongoing series of hearings around the nation into the many manifestations of voter irregularities in recent election cycles. It was also an effort to look into the full reinstatement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that would require certain states, especially in the Deep South, to receive federal clearance before change voting laws.

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) is the chairperson of the traveling subcommittee, and she has was joined by Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.).

“From issues with registration to ballot access, to the counting of votes,” Abrams said, “the behavior that was evidenced over the course of a decade by the then-Secretary of State demonstrated a deep disregard for the voting rights of all Georgia citizens.”

The state Republican party later tweeted the hearing was “yet another example of Washington Democrats using taxpayer money to prop up failed candidate Stacey Abrams and her false narrative.”

The chairwoman of the panel, Fudge, said this issue is much bigger than Abrams or the state of Georgia.

“They can think what they want to think, they can call it what they please,” Fudge said. “We started this in Texas. Stacey Abrams is not from Texas. We’re going to North Carolina. Stacey Abrams is not from North Carolina. What it is is a hearing on how we enfranchise all voters in the United States.”

The subcommittee first held a listening session in Brownsville, Texas, earlier this month. It will hold hearings in North Carolina, North Dakota, Florida, Ohio, Alabama, and Washington, D.C.

Fudge also said the Georgia hearing was nevertheless “absolutely (fair), no question about it.” She said Republican members, who were invited to the hearing, had the opportunity to invite Republican witnesses to speak on the issue. No one on the other side of the political isle bothered to attend.

However, Republicans in Georgia were forced to acknowledge, without directly stating so, that there were a laughable number of problems with the voting system as it exists in the state.

That’s why, on the same day as the scorched-earth condemnation of Georgia’s voting system took place at the Carter Center,  Republicans in the state Capitol were working on House Bill 316. This piece of legislation would enable the purchase of a new $150 million touchscreen voting system.

A number of witnesses joined Abrams discussing the current state of voting rights in Georgia since the US Supreme Court invalidated portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Sean Young, legal director of the Georgia ACLU, Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, Gilda Daniels, director of litigation of the Advancement Project, and Fulton County voter Stacey Hopkins.

“We have to have national attention on this national emergency, a real national emergency, which is voter suppression in the United States,” Abrams, the former Georgia House Minority Leader said on CNN’s “New Day.”

“The threat to democracy in our country is real.”

The state GOP dismissed the hearings as simply a platform for Abrams to unofficially launch her 2020 Senate run against incumbent Sen. David Perdue, R-Georgia.

“This hearing, as well as her State of the Union address (response), is part and parcel of a Democratic desire to see that race,” said John Watson, chairman of the Georgia Republican Party. “This is the next stage of the promotion of Stacey Abrams on the taxpayer’s dime. I believe these are in-kind contributions for her campaign for the United States Senate.”

Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Georgia, a subcommittee member, referred to Abrams as “Sen. Abrams” before questioning her. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, lauded Abrams’ gubernatorial run, adding “All I can say is ‘Black Girl Magic.’”

Back in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court took out a provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required 15 states and jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get approval from the U.S. Department of Justice before they changed their voting rules.

Texas, Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Virginia were subject to pre-clearance along with local jurisdictions in California, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota.

Abrams and many other advocacy groups are asking for the Voting Rights Act to be fully reinstated. Abrams discussed her grievances on national television earlier this month during her response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.

Abrams, who was the first black female major-party gubernatorial nominee in the history of the United States, became the first African-American woman to deliver a State of the Union response in reaction to President Trump.

“While I acknowledge the results of the 2018 election here in Georgia, I did not and we cannot accept efforts to undermine our right to vote,” Abrams said at the time. “That’s why I started a nonpartisan organization called ‘Fair Fight’ to advocate for voting rights.”

Meanwhile, Abrams’ Fair Fight Action voting rights group that she launched when she ended her campaign has ceaseless contacted supporters with texts, emails and social media posts encouraging them to show up at the congressional hearing in force. Based upon the numbers at the hearing, they more than obliged her.

 

Former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams testifies before the Subcommittee on Elections of the Committee on House Administration on Tuesday, Feb 19. (Stephen Fowler | GPB News)

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