As the novel coronavirus continues to ravage the world, cause unrest in the global economy, force businesses to shutter their operations and leave American families jittery who now face growing uncertainty, rising star of the Democrat Party Stacey Abrams gave an exclusive interview to The Atlanta Voice, where she discussed President Donald Trump and Gov. Brian Kemp’s responses to the global pandemic.

The former State Minority Leader and Fair Fight founder thoughts on a number of other issues, including why vote-by-mail is such an important thing in the CARES Act, the importance of this year’s US Census and the rising costs of higher education.

On the Coronavirus in regard to President Trump’s and Governor Brian Kemp’s response:

Abrams: Leadership has been slow to respond, even now the response has been unfortunately inadequate. But there have been some bright spots, namely in the bureaucratic leadership,” explained Abrams. “Dr. Anthony Fauci and others who have gone beyond the political to really offer smart and necessary recommendations to members of the public at the state level. I understand the actions taken by the governor.

House Democrats are preparing legislation to make sure the coronavirus does not affect the 2020 election. The Democrats are introducing a measure to allow the public to send their votes in via absentee ballot, or “vote-by-mail,” as described in the House’s version of the stimulus package. This would spare citizens from the agonizing choice between practicing social distancing — protecting themselves and the rest of us from the spread of the disease — and exercising their right to vote. Georgia’s presidential primary and republican senate primary elections have been moved to May 19th.

I would caution everyone that we should be demanding that the governor to think about not only the immediacy of this crisis but the long term implications, including a need to make certain that instead of having to scramble in may to conduct the state primaries, that he should use the newly declared emergency powers to authorize it. Absentee ballots should be mailed to every single registered voter in Georgia.

Georgia has ample time now with the move of the presidential primary, but more importantly with the understanding that the peak of the Coronavirus may not be on any of your schedules. It is incredibly important that the governor immediately authorize the secretary of state to begin sending out absentee ballots to every registered voter. We know that coming into May 19th we may still face the ravages of this and we know that we may not have adequate poll workers in place. So, the safest and most effective way to ensure the continuation of our democracy is to have the governor use his new emergency powers to ensure that every voter in Georgia has their voices heard on May 19th.”

By comparison, the Senate Republican version of the bill provides $140 million for states to prepare for the upcoming elections, without offering guidance and stipulations on the manner the funds should be spent. 

Republicans have vehemently said they don’t want to wrestle control over elections, national, or otherwise, from the states.

But 33 states already let residents vote by mail without providing any particular reason. Furthermore, Colorado, Washington State, and Oregon have all-mail elections.

I would add one other piece,” Abrams said. “I think that the governor also should use this opportunity to ensure that health care access is made available to all Georgians. We know that in rural Georgia, there is a lot of shortage of doctors in hospitals and that a number of people will continue their behavior of not seeking out medical treatment because they lack health insurance.

This is an opportunity to use the federal and state declarations of emergency to expand access to Medicaid so that no one who was ill hides in the shadows and risks furthering this pandemic. Every person in Georgia should have the ability to seek testing and treatment without fear of either documentation status or fear of lack of medical insurance.

On rumors regarding the African American population and the 2020 Census:

Abrams: If we are seen and we are heard through the census, we will have the ability to change the laws we need to protect our communities and to seek opportunity,” Abrams said. “Number one is that if you fill out the census, they’ll know how to find you via a cell phone or a pallor bill. They already know how to find it. Do you get your resources?”

And if you get your census form, if you fill it out, you are not revealing yourself to anyone. They already know where you are. This way you get the power that comes with being here in this country. Second is that somehow they can misuse your information. They can’t. It’s 1790 no one has ever violated this law that holds the information confidential.

In 2019, I launched Fair Fight Action which is focused on securing and fermenting voter protection infrastructure for our democracy. But central to that is the 2020 census. And so I want to discuss fair count, which is a 501(c)3 organization that has been deeply involved in ensuring that hard to count communities, particularly African American communities, are counted in the census. Georgia faces a very strong likelihood of an undercount and the expected undercounts.

Not what could happen, but what they set to happen is that we will have such a significant undercount of black communities in Georgia that we will force an underfunding of $300 million a year for the next decade. That’s $3 billion that will not go to our schools, will not go to kids who need a free lunch, will not go to WIC programs for black mothers who need access to health, healthy foods and medical care. It’s money that will not go to our streets and roads in our communities where we know that we are last to be served.

And here’s the thing, the confidential inside the census is confidential for 72 years. I’m 46. I cannot see a single census with my information. And that means anything you’ve done that you don’t want people to know about, they can not find it out. But the census doesn’t even ask that. So since it asks who you are, where you are, and who’s there with you, that information is information that secures your political power, your economic power, and it helps your community. We should fill out the census for our piece of the pie. We should fill out our sensor to our piece of the power.

On Fair Fight Action’s monitoring the rollout of the new polling system in the state of Georgia?

Abrams: Well, number one, Fair Fight remains committed to promoting free and fair elections and holding state election officials accountable. That’s what we do. We do so through litigation. And right now our litigation is moving through the discovery process. We survived a motion to dismiss that was lobbied by the secretary of state and the state of Georgia arguing that they didn’t have responsibility. The judge agreed with us that they did and I actually wrote him an 80 plus page response to the motion to dismiss. That was very clear that the issues relating are grave importance to democracy and Georgia. Last year we launched a voting rights pocket that has been helpful last year in highlighting the issues around the voting machines. And once those voting machines were authorized, they continued to serve as a fact-finder and as a promoter of good information including letting local governments know that they were being forced to absorb millions of dollars in expenses that were not included in the secretary of state’s budget.

And that means that instead of the state paying its fair share, local governments are going to have to make sacrifices to ensure that these machines actually work. We also use our litigation strategy to get 26,000 people cut back on the voting rolls after the secretary of state attempted to purge 309,000 people in December. We know an additional hundred thousand people should also have been restored, but unfortunately, the state is refusing to follow its own law on the legislation front, so we do litigation on the legislation front.

As I said, we monitor legislation. We were able to force changes in the way that the machine for purchase, but we’re also using our legislative word to fight against a bill currently pending in the house that will force anyone using an absentee ballot to make a copy of their driver’s license or identification and send it in.

That is a recipe for not only identity theft, but it’s a poll tax on those who can’t afford to find a Kinko’s. If you live down in rural Georgia and you need to send an absentee ballot. If you don’t have access to a fax machine or don’t happen to have the equipment at home, instead of simply being able to put a stamp on your vote and send it in, you’re going to have to go hunt for someone who can make a photocopy and hope that no one kills your identity when you send it in.

And it’s a dangerous thing that does not include the security of elections in Georgia and we’re fighting hard to block it. But we are also engaged in advocacy and I’m very proud of the work that our super volunteers that are known as our democracy warriors, have helped block voter purchase and those have, they’ve helped block whole closures.

They have been part of making sure that we know what’s happening in local governments, especially around their budget. We also have Fair Fight U, which are college students who are also part of this work, who are learning how to protect democracy where they are. And so that’s, that’s where we are and we continue to do this work not only locally but nationally.

We’re in eighteen States and we are doing work to stand up voter protection teams and battleground States across the country because the threat to our democracy isn’t just here in Georgia. And answer to your other question, we disagree with the new voting machines and the initial decision or how they would vote. We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure this works and to make sure that as the rollout continues, we are gathering information and gathering anecdotes and we hold the state accountable. The right to vote should not be infringed upon because of poor decision making, either through incompetence or malfeasance. And our mission is to ensure that no matter how we vote, that the votes are able, you’re able to cast a vote and you’re able to have that vote counted and that you’re able to make your way into the door because we’ve ensured that people who are registered get to stay on the road.

On the rising cost of higher education in Georgia and across the nation?

Abrams: I think in the state of Georgia, part of what we have to address is the concomitant drop in state investment that occurred along with the rising usage of the hope scholarship. Part of what occurred is that the state, both as the collegiate as well as the case would follow up 12 levels as decreased its investment in ways that unfortunately are passing costs along to students.

And so I believe that we have to right-size the investment that we’re making to ensure that we’re helping students cover the full cost of college. And if we move into any form of gambling we need to, or gaming of any kind, we need to ensure that we restore the fundamental promise and the original promise of the hope scholarship to ensure that we provide full funding for students who are low income. That’s sad. 

I think the national conversation about free public college is one that we should continue to have. I believe in making it tuition-free. I would do so primarily based on a conversation about the income level of students and their families. But I think we have to have a national conversation about what we can do to address it across the country. But States like Georgia that already have programs in place, we can’t simply ignore our obligations for local improvements while we fight for national progress.

At the last Democratic debate on Sunday, March 15th, Joe Biden said he would nominate the first black woman to the United States Supreme Court. Secondly, the former Vice President proclaimed his running mate would also be a woman. Abrams says, it is absolutely overdue that a Black woman should sit on the nation’s highest court. Moreover, Abrams paid homage to Geraldine Ferraro, who was the first woman nominee for Vice-President in 1984. 

“My celebration will come when a woman sits in that seat and even more when a woman wins the presidency on her own,” said Abrams. “But it is always an important nod to, and acknowledgment of the work of women who have the former vice president recognized that that is an essential partnership that he will seek as he pursues the nomination.”

(Photo: Courtesy of Fair Fight Action)

Itoro Umontuen currently serves as Managing Editor of The Atlanta Voice. Upon his arrival to the historic publication, he served as their Director of Photography. As a mixed-media journalist, Umontuen...

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