Stacey Abrams' Campaign Mounts Legal Challenge In Fight For Governor

Donna M. Owens Nov, 09, 2018

Stacey Abrams’ gubernatorial campaign in Georgia is mounting a legal challenge related to Tuesday’s midterm election and what they allege are voting irregularities and possible voter suppression.

The Abrams campaign held a press conference Thursday led by several lawyers and senior leadership. Her team said the numbers between Abrams and her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, are close—he’s leading by about 62,000 votes–and there are thousands of ballots that have yet to be counted or discovered.

Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, an attorney who also serves as chair of Abrams’ campaign, said they are now pursuing multiple options aimed at ensuring “all votes are counted” in what’s already been a contentious race.

The campaign has filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia in Dougherty County asking for an injunction that directs the Board of Elections to count any absentee ballots received between 7 p.m. on Election Day and close of business today (Friday); that’s reportedly when overseas military and overseas citizens’ ballots are slated to be counted.

 Abrams’ team is also investigating what it deemed “multiple cases” from college students who believe they properly submitted their absentee ballots on time, but aren’t sure if those ballots have been accepted. The campaign said it is also working to try to get more information regarding provisional ballots, but allege that information from the Secretary of State’s office has been unclear. Provisional ballots are slated to be counted on November 13.

 Meanwhile, the impact of Hurricane Michael (which hit Florida, southwest Georgia and the Carolinas in October) also remains unknown, since re-routed mail could delay ballots being delivered in timely fashion.

 “Our ongoing legal efforts are not about Stacey Abrams — they are about protecting our democracy and ensuring every eligible Georgian’s voice is heard,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’ campaign manager. “We will continue to advocate for every ballot to be counted and take the appropriate legal measures to ensure the legitimacy of this election.”

 Abrams, an attorney and former state legislator who rose to a leadership role, hopes to make history as the nation’s first Black woman governor. Former President Barack Obama, Oprah and countless Black women around the country have backed her candidacy.

Kemp—who until very recently was the Secretary of State whose office oversees elections—has supporters who include president Donald Trump, but he’s also been called out by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), former President Jimmy Carter and others. Critics contend that he shouldn’t have overseen this election because his candidacy presents a conflict of interest.

 Earlier this week, a group of Georgia voters represented by the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, Protect Democracy, filed a federal lawsuit. It asked the U.S. District Court in Atlanta to stop Kemp from exercising any further powers of the Secretary of State’s office in presiding over the 2018 general election. Specifically, the emergency legal papers sought a temporary restraining order barring him from being involved in the counting of votes, the certification of results, or any runoff or recount procedures that would normally be exercised by the Secretary of State or the Board of Elections.

Previously, two federal courts ruled against Kemp in prior matters in which he was accused of violating the law. Two weeks ago, a federal judge ordered him to instruct election officials to stop summarily discarding absentee ballots that contained signature discrepancies. More recently, a federal judge struck down a restrictive “exact match” policy implemented by Kemp that critics say jeopardized some 3,000 individuals’ ability to vote because their registrations had minor discrepancies related to their identification documents.

On Thursday, Kemp submitted his letter of resignation to Georgia’s current (outgoing) Governor Nathan Deal. The move came moments after a hearing was slated to commence in an Atlanta federal courtroom about the lawsuit.

 “It was contingent on him resigning… which he did,” activist LaTosha Brown, one of five plaintiffs in the lawsuit, told Essence via email. “So that particular case is now dropped because he resigned.” 

Derrick Johnson, president/CEO of the NAACP, said it’s “unfortunate” that Kemp did not step down months ago as Secretary of State “to ensure that Georgia had a fair election.”

 “Whether it’s malicious intent or benign neglect, Kemp’s actions during the election were textbook voter suppression and surely decreased voter confidence among residents in the state,” said Johnson in a statement. “His actions were strategic, careless and aimed at silencing the voting power of communities of color in the state. …”

Kemp has denied any wrongdoing. He has already declared victory and begun setting up a transition team preparing to head to the governor’s mansion. Kemp told reporters in Georgia that he respects how Abrams ran “a hard fought race,” but the “votes are not there for her.”

And Gov. Deal recently Tweeted in part: “He and his opponent both ran passionate campaigns …I believe the voters of Georgia made the correct decision in electing Brian.”

As of early Thursday, some 3.9 million votes had been cast in the Georgia gubernatorial race. According to the Abrams campaign and other sources, an additional 23,873 votes for her would automatically trigger a recount, while 25,632 votes for Abrams would lead to a runoff in early December.

So who will oversee the elections process for Georgia’s 83rd governor? On Thursday, Gov. Deal appointed Robyn A. Crittenden, the former Georgia Department of Human Services Commissioner, to serve as Secretary of State, filling the vacancy created by Kemp’s resignation. Crittenden—said to be the first African-American woman to serve as a statewide constitutional officer in Georgia history— has taken the oath of office and will serve the remainder of Kemp’s term. 

“Robyn’s experience as an attorney, public servant and agency head make her exceptionally qualified to fill the role of Georgia’s secretary of state,” said Deal in a press statement. “She is a leader with brilliant intellect, high integrity, and a wide range of experience in public service. Robyn has been one of the most effective leaders within my administration and she is well-qualified to fill one of the most important jobs in state government.”