Abrams launches voting rights effort at site of 2018 balloting glitches

Stacey Abrams speaking Saturday at Snellville's Annistown Elementary to introduce her new voter registration initiative Fair Fight 2020. Photo by Beau Evans.

Karen Starks worked the polls at Annistown Elementary School on Election Day last fall and there was trouble from the start.

All of the precinct’s card machines malfunctioned around 7 a.m., she said. When Gwinnett County elections officials replaced those machines, the new ones didn’t work either. The line of voters swelled by a couple hundred amid the delay and it wasn’t until 12:30 a.m. that the last person cast a ballot, she said..

“We did have some people who left and we know they didn’t come back,” Starks, a Snellville resident, said at the school on Saturday. “They were upset and thought it was voter suppression.”

Starks joined a crowd packed into Annistown Elementary’s gym on Saturday afternoon to watch  Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams launch her new initiative aimed at registering voters ahead of the 2020 elections and ensure they are able to actually cast ballots on election day. The Snellville school was a symbolic choice for Abrams, who aims to expand her policy hallmarks of voter access and election integrity in Georgia and beyond.

“We’re going to make sure that Georgia is a battleground state in 2020,” Abrams said. “We know that 2020 is about all the marbles.”

Called Fair Fight 2020, the Abrams initiative is raising money to register voters and educate them on voting rights in 20 states deemed to be competitive next year for a range of Democratic offices, including Iowa, Michigan and Ohio. This fall, governor’s races are targeted in Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi . Abrams’ Fair Fight political action committee raised more than $4 million this year through June from donors across the country, according to the group’s most recent campaign finance report. The money will pay for Fair Fight staff and be donated to Democratic party organizations in the 20 states, according to the organization’s news release.

Speaking to around 300 people in the school’s gym Saturday, Abrams railed against voter access problems that plagued Annistown and other precincts in Georgia last November. She said  her Georgia initiative is a homegrown effort to oust Georgia GOP elected officials from the governor’s office, U.S. Senate and the state House of Representatives, and a blueprint for doing the same in other states.

Abrams declined to say Saturday whether she plans to challenge Gov. Brian Kemp again in 2022 for the state’s top job.  She lost by just 55,000 votes out of 4 million cast in 2018.

Abrams said she would “welcome an invitation” if asked to be the vice president by any of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates who win the party’s nomination.

Abrams’ initiative targets voting access concerns that roiled last year’s governor’s race. Her campaign complained then-Secretary of State Kemp oversaw an elections office that purged voter rolls and did not count thousands of provisional ballots cast on election day to deliberately suppress voters.Kemp and his supporters reject accusations his office sought to suppress registered voters, citing last year’s record turnout. They dismiss Abrams’ complaints as those of a sore loser.

Voting access issues the Abrams campaign raised continue to resonate with her supporters.

Patrice Prevost, a poll worker at the Pickneyville Park precinct in Norcross last year, attended Saturday’s launch to show support for Abrams’ initiative because in 2018 she said she saw “a lot of things going on that were of concern.”.

Hundreds of people stood in line at her Gwinnett County precinct when a county elections official announced no more provisional ballots would be accepted.

“That silenced the entire room,” Prevost said. “It seemed like he was trying to dissuade people from casting ballots.”

Another official reassured voters they could still file provisional ballots, but the first announcement stirred suspicions.

Things like scrapped provisional and absentee ballots, broken machines and purged registration rolls should not be allowed affect Georgia’s next elections, Abrams said Saturday.

“No one should have to wonder if democracy works in Georgia,” she said. “I’ve traveled the state since (the election) and I can tell you, the questions still abound.”

 

Beau Evans
Beau Evans has covered local and state government and breaking news in New Orleans and California. He’s reported on immigration issues, the threat of rising seas to coastal areas, public safety and hurricanes. At The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Evans detailed the critical role government plays to ensure that people in a community have access to clean water and other public needs. In 2018, his investigative reporting revealed top officials at New Orleans’ cash-poor water utility dealt themselves huge raises, prompting several to resign. Evans’ prior reporting was in West Marin north of San Francisco for The Point Reyes Light. Evans is an Atlanta native who graduated with honors from The Lovett School and is an honors graduate of North Carolina’s Davidson College. Beau was with the Georgia Recorder until January 4th, 2020.

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