Former Democratic Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said championing voters’ rights leading up to 2020 elections wouldn’t prohibit her from accepting an invitation for a higher office, if the situation presented itself to her.
“I would certainly welcome an invitation to stand with our democratic nominee (for president) for vice president of the United States,” Abrams said.
That, though, was not why she was at Annistown Elementary School in Snellville on Saturday afternoon. Abrams gave a speech in front of supporters at the school that also served as a symbolic site for the rally. Annistown did not open on time as a voting precinct on Election Day in 2018 because of malfunctioning voting machines and cards.
While five Gwinnett County precincts in the county experienced issues with poll machines, Annistown was the only one that did not open on time. Abrams said the machine malfunctions caused delays that discouraged voters from staying to cast their ballots.
“Gwinnett is a perfect example of what can be and what unfortunately still is,” Abrams said. “Annistown was the site — ground zero — of voter suppression for Gwinnett County. Broken machines, long lines and under resourcing of people asked to do this work.
“But we also know we have the most diverse county in the state and we had incredible turnout and that we transformed what the state looks like, beginning here in Gwinnett County. As with everything, there is good and bad. We’re looking to amplify the good and beat back the bad.”
Saturday was an official launch to Abrams’ unofficial cause since losing last year’s election. Fair Fight 2020 is an initiative that aims to staff, fund and train voter protection operations in 20 battleground states, including Georgia, leading up to the 2020 general election.
This week, a federal judge ruled that Georgia voting precincts are prohibited from using paperless touchscreen machines beyond this year. Georgia must prepare for the possibility to use hand-marked paper ballots if a new system isn’t in place for the March 24 presidential primary election.
Fair Fight’s scope, Abrams said, is not just focused on holding governments accountable for a functioning voting system. Fair Fight Action, the nonprofit, non-partisan organization affiliated with the initiative, must make certain that people know their rights when they come to the ballot box.
“If you are eligible to vote in the state of Georgia, Fair Fight 2020 is going to make certain that you know your rights and your rights are protected by standing up the strongest voter protection teams in Georgia history,” Abrams said.
Abrams said she believes county election boards will welcome the support and that the problems with voter suppression start at the top at the Secretary of State’s office for providing training and resources.
Karen Starks was at the Annistown precinct on election day when she said things went wrong. The Snellville native said people waiting in line began to leave after voting machines and cards malfunctioned and left people standing for hours. Annistown started issuing paper ballots to voters.
With one state official at the precinct to certify the provisional ballots, the process drug on. Starks said she got home at 2 a.m. the next morning.
“We saw some leaving and they had to go to work,” Starks said. “There were people who really waited the time they could because they thought it was important.”
Abrams was introduced by Nikema Williams, chair of the Georgia Democratic Party, and spoke for between 10 and 15 minutes. She held an approximately 10-minute question-and-answer session with supporters afterward.
Steve Toggerson of Lawrenceville was one of the first people in the building on Saturday. She volunteered for Abrams’ campaign last year and said voting rights is one of her deepest passions. She’s volunteered to assist in voter registration for the previous 16 years.
“We registered thousands of young people and people of color,” Toggerson said.
The crowd that attended the rally was diverse: a mix of minority and white supporters. Though the age of people attending the rally did skew older, there were some students and young professionals in attendance.
Toggerson expressed sentiments similar to fellow supporters who were disappointed to learn that Abrams would not run for office in 2020, but the deemed the cause Abrams championed an important one.
“For the primary, I am going to be doing everything I can to build voter protection plans that ensure that every vote is counted in Georgia,” Abrams said. “If the nominee for president decides to offer me a position, I would be honored to be offered, but my responsibility is how to guarantee a fair fight in Georgia in 2020 and beyond.”