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Stacey Abrams loses again: Judge rejects suit claiming Georgia's 2018 election was mismanaged

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Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

When Republican Gov. Brian Kemp defeated Democrat Stacey Abrams in Georgia's 2018 gubernatorial election by 54,723 votes, Abrams refused to concede. She suggested that doing so would make her "complicit" in a "rigged" system. While the delta in votes was too large to legally warrant a recount, Abrams — who will again face Kemp in this year's election — sought other ways to contest the democratic result.

After the election, Abrams' Fair Fight Action organization filed a lawsuit, claiming Georgia had "grossly mismanaged" the election, depriving some citizens of their right to vote. In particular, the group took issue with two facets of the state's voter verification processes, both designed to counter voter fraud.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones in Atlanta rejected that lawsuit, finding for the defendants on all counts.

Rejected

Jones, appointed by former President Barack Obama, stated that although "Georgia's election system is not perfect, the challenged practices violate neither the constitution nor the [Voting Rights Act of 1965]."

The trial, which was decided by judge rather than by jury, took place over the course of two months and 21 trial days. Jones suggested it may have "been the longest voting rights bench trial in the history of the Northern District of Georgia."

One of the issues at the heart of the trial was Georgia's "exact match" policy, whereby the information on a voter registration application must comport with the records kept by Georgia's Department of Driver Services or the Social Security Administration.

In the event that there is not a match, the applicant is notified by letter from the county board of registrars that the application has been assigned a pending status. The application can be completed thereafter by way of the applicant providing sufficient evidence they are who they claim to be.

Abrams' group claimed that this requirement disproportionately affected minorities and immigrants and violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.

Fair Fight attorney Allegra Lawrence-Hardy advanced the claim that Georgia officials had made it "harder to register, harder to stay registered and ultimately harder to vote" and intimated that requiring voters to have valid documentation on hand was "designed to keep certain people from voting."

In his 288-page decision, Jones stated that the "defendants have a compelling interest in preventing voter fraud" and that "the limited burdens placed on voters by Exact Match citizen verification are justified." Furthermore, Jones indicated that Fair Fight failed to prove the policy violated either the First or 14th Amendments.

According to Josh Belinfante, a lawyer for state election officials, Abrams' group was motivated by a desire to turn Georgia into a blue state. Belinfante indicated that among the over 3,000 stories cited by Fair Fight, only a handful were from persons unable to cast a ballot in the 2018 election. Not one reported having an issue in the 2020 election.

Gov. Brian Kemp said Friday's ruling "exposes this legal effort for what it really is: a tool wielded by a politician hoping to wrongfully weaponize the legal system to further her own political goals."

Although Jones ruled against all the claims brought by Fair Fight, Abrams said in a statement, "The conduct of this trial and preceding cases and legislative actions represent a hard-won victory for voters who have endured long lines, burdensome date of birth requirements and exact match laws that disproportionately impact Black and Brown voters."

Notwithstanding Abrams' characterization of another loss as a win, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr suggested this rejection "is existential to who Stacey Abrams has become as a public and political figure."

"She put herself in the political spotlight nationally, potentially globally, all over the narrative that she lost the governor's race because of voter suppression," said Carr. "And here you have a federal judge saying, it's all untrue. It didn't happen."

Election denial

In a post-defeat speech on November 16, 2018, Abrams said, "I will not concede because the erosion of our democracy is not right."

Abrams, not opposed to criminal non-citizens voting in local elections, told MSNBC's Katy Tur that "the election was stolen from the people of Georgia."

On November 19, she told MSNBC's Chris Hayes that it was "not a free and fair election."

Abrams later told the New York Times in 2019 that the "results were purely and fully attributable to voter suppression."

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who contested the results of the 2016 presidential election, was joined by numerous other Democrats, including former Attorney General Eric Holder, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, in reiterating Abrams' claim that the 2018 gubernatorial election had been stolen.

Clinton stumped for Abrams' election-denial narrative at a commemoration of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, suggesting, "Stacey Abrams should be governor, leading that state right now."

Clinton also suggested that "you can run the best campaign, you can even become the nominee, and you can have the election stolen from you."

Kamala Harris stated, "Let's say this loud and clear: Without voter suppression, Stacey Abrams would be the governor of Georgia."

Election reality

It wasn't only U.S. District Judge Steve Jones who has cast doubt on Abrams' allegations of election mismanagement and voter suppression.

The Heritage Foundation noted that "Georgia was in full compliance with requirements of the National Voter Registration Act, which made it easy to register by mail, at the DMV, state public assistance offices, and at numerous other agencies and locations throughout the state."

In fact, it had never "been easier to register to vote in Georgia."

Ahead of the election in which Abrams lost, the state had nearly 7 million registered voters, "the most in Georgia's entire history."

In a 2018 post-election analysis, FiveThirtyEight indicated that voter turnout was "really big." Whereas on average, "roughly 40 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in a midterm ... an estimated 55% of eligible voters exercised their right to vote, which is about 21 points higher than the state's 1982-2014 average."

As for the 1.4 million voters reportedly taken off the voter rolls between 2012 and 2018, PolitiFact reported, "Many died, moved away or lost their right to vote because they committed felonies." Some were removed because they skipped previous elections and "had no contact with the election officials."

Sherman further noted "that removal policy started in the 1990s under Democratic leadership."

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said, "Stolen election and voter suppression claims by Stacey Abrams were nothing but poll-tested rhetoric not supported by facts and evidence."

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