Ask About Democracy: Debate Night in Georgia

By Porsha White, National Political Director, Let America Vote

On the campaign trail, 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have repeated the refrain that, if it weren’t for voter suppression, Stacey Abrams would be the governor of Georgia. 

“Let’s say this loud and clear — without voter suppression, Stacey Abrams would be the governor of Georgia,” says Senator Kamala Harris.

Senator Elizabeth Warren says, “Massive voter suppression prevented Stacey Abrams from becoming the rightful governor of Georgia.” 

Mayor Pete Buttigieg says, “Racially motivated patterns of voter suppression are responsible for Stacey Abrams not being governor of Georgia right now.”

“Voter suppression is the reason Stacey Abrams isn’t governor right now,” said former Vice President Joe Biden 

Before he was even on the campaign trail, Senator Cory Booker expressed that “Stacey Abrams’s election is being stolen from her, using what I think are insidious measures to disenfranchise certain groups of people.”

The candidates are right.

Candidates have also called out Republican voter suppression tactics nationwide. Candidates have expressed concern over the security of our elections. And candidates have emphasized that gerrymandering, money in politics, and attacks on the right to vote are existential threats to American democracy.

Yet in all of the 2020 debates, we haven’t heard from the candidates on voting rights. Moderators have asked exactly zero questions on how, as president, the candidates would fight to ensure free and fair elections. 

That needs to change.

On Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidates will be in Georgia for the fifth primary debate. Because Georgia is an epicenter of voter suppression, the debate in Atlanta is the perfect stage for candidates to address how they will protect the right to vote.

Last year, Gov. Brian Kemp nefariously used his position as secretary of state to rig the gubernatorial election in his favor. He used a Swiss Army Knife of voter suppression tools to defeat Abrams.

In the run-up to the election, Kemp purged more than half a million voters from the voting rolls. That came after purging over 700,000 voters between 2014 and 2016. While reasonable voter list maintenancelike removing individuals who have moved out of state or have passed awayis important to maintain an accurate voter roll, across-the-board purges that prevent eligible voters from voting are unnecessary and undemocratic. 

Of the over one-million voters purged in Georgia by Kemp, a majority were disenfranchised because they had decided not to vote. Purges of less-frequent voters disproportionately disenfranchise low-income Georgians, minorities, and Democrats. Abrams recently captured the absurdity of purging voters from the rolls for choosing not to vote: “I’ve never heard anyone tell me that because I haven’t used my Second Amendment right it has disappeared.” These Georgia purges are voter suppression, plain and simple. 

Unfortunately, Georgia Republicans’ voter purges are continuing heading into 2020, as the GOP plans to purge over 300,000 voters from the voting rolls. 

The GOP efforts to defy the will of Georgia voters in 2018 did not stop with voter purges. Approximately 50,000 voters were suppressed under the “exact match” law, which disenfranchised voters for minor inconsistencies in voter registration applications. Polling places were closed in areas with large African-American populations, and several more would have if not for protests from community members.

Let’s be clear: Georgia Republicans successfully rigged the 2018 election in their favor. And similar voter suppression tactics are being used across the country. Yet Americans have not heard a single question during the presidential debates about how candidates would stand up for voting rights. 

Stacey Abrams may very well be the strongest voting rights advocates in the county. We are proud to have her on Let America Vote’s Board of Advisors as she leads the fight against voter suppression. With so many candidates invoking Abrams’ name on the campaign trail, it is time for the debate moderators to ask the candidates how they will be voting rights champions.

We deserve to hear from the candidates on an array of issues our nation is confronting, but voting rights and protecting our democracy from both domestic and foreign attacks can not be ignored. All of our rights as Americans hinge on the right to vote. Without protecting the ballot, all the policies that Democratic candidates say they will enactfrom expanding healthcare to fighting climate changewill be impossible to achieve.