Look alive, America: What happened to Stacey Abrams is about to happen nationally.
If you recall, the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race was rife with voter suppression, voter disinformation, and finally the downright theft of an election by Brian Kemp, the secretary of state and Republican candidate. Kemp used his authority as secretary of state to control the allocation of resources, ballots, and election day procedures in one of the most egregious abuses of electoral power this side of Bush v. Gore.
What Kemp did to Abrams in November of 2018 laid out a winning dirty playbook that the GOP is about to roll out nationwide, with partisan officials charged with running state elections using voter suppression and disenfranchisement tactics to chip away at Democratic votes and the electoral process itself. As we’ve seen in primaries over the last few months, expect long lines, inadequate numbers of poll workers and ballots in certain (Democratic) areas, and white nationalists serving as de facto security guards at select polling sites throughout the South and Midwest.
All this is happening as many voters will be casting absentee ballots for the first time because of the coronavirus, overwhelming the capabilities of often underfunded and partisan elected officials and creating a treasure trove of opportunities for lawyers and party activists to delay and legally contest results.
The possibility of a New York debacle—where it takes weeks to determine winners, and many votes are “wasted” or “spoiled” thanks to the failures of the voting system, voter confusion and issues with the mail as each state has its own rules for when ballots must be submitted to be counted—is quite real. What Americans need and deserve are electoral systems throughout the country that are run by competent and nonpartisan individuals who respect the rule of law and the will of the people. But that’s not what we have.
One of the dark and dishonest talking points the president often returns to, most recently in his tweet Thursday musing about just rain-checking the election, is the idea that Americans cheat at the polls (and specifically that they cheat against him). Although most members of his administration (and family) routinely vote by mail, the president has insisted that the use of the U.S. Postal Service is a means of increasing voter fraud.
In fact, not only did the president and vice president vote by mail, so did the president’s wife and daughter Ivanka, Attorney General Bill Barr, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and roughly a dozen other inner Trump circle officials. Essentially, Republicans voting by mail is deemed safe and acceptable, but Democrats voting by mail is cheating and a version of voter fraud, according to the president.
His attacks on voting by mail along with his efforts to drastically defund the U.S. Postal Service are clearly a way of setting up a scapegoat in advance should he lose the electoral vote along with the popular vote this time—and to increase his legal and political options if he should lose narrowly in a handful of key states.
In order for Biden to solidify his current lead and win by an undisputable margin, he will need to keep a close eye on the referees running our election. If he wins, restoring the systems intended to protect the integrity of our elections should be one of his first priorities.
The stakes couldn’t be higher: Past the presidency, this year’s statewide election results will affect the Census, the redrawing of political lines in each state and the allocation of resources and political power for the next decade.
Georgia’s example shows that Republicans are comfortable disenfranchising voters to win that fight; it remains to be seen if Democrats are willing to fight to protect democracy.
It is not necessary for the Biden team to reinvent the wheel; it is crucial that they keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes focused. During the 2018 campaign, Abrams and her team built an extensive grassroots campaign strategy that extended across the 159 counties in Georgia. After the election was taken from her, Abrams and her team launched Fair Fight, an organization dedicated to litigation, legislation, and advocacy in order to support voter protection programs at state parties around the country.
Whoever Biden picks for his running mate, he should lean on Abrams and other policy-makers who know and understand the real threat of voter disenfranchisement and how to combat it.