Stacey Abrams’ Refusal to Give Up the Georgia Governor’s Race Is Civil Rights History in the Making

This afternoon, one week after the midterm elections as Georgia officials continue to count votes in the too-close-to-call race between Stacey Abrams and (now former) Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, police arrested a Georgia state senator during a rally in the state Capitol. Local CBS reporter Adam Murphy tweeted footage of police arresting state senator Nikema Williams as she stood with constituents who were rallying to demand that the state count all the votes cast in the midterms. The recount demand comes amid credible allegations of voter suppression against Kemp.

“I stood peacefully next to my constituents because they wanted their voices to be heard,” Williams said to reporters during her arrest. “And now I’m being arrested.” Constituents were also arrested during the rally, according to another Murphy tweet.

It’s been seven days since midterm Election Day, yet election battles are still ongoing in Georgia and elsewhere. The nation’s eyes have remained tightly focused on the Georgia governor’s race between Abrams and Kemp. The former Secretary of State declared victory last week, but Abrams, who trails Kemp by less than a percentage point so far, isn’t backing down — and it’s very important that she’s not.

If she wins, Abrams will become the first Black woman to be elected governor in the country’s history, and would put a liberal in a position of power in a traditionally conservative state. Abrams refused to concede on election night despite Kemp claiming a (premature) win. This week, on Monday night, a federal judge ordered a delay in declaring a victor in the election, just days after Kemp resigned from his post as Secretary of State last week (because, it turns out, he’s so sure he’s won that he’s already beginning the process of transitioning to the role of governor).

There are various reasons Kemp feels confident he’s won the race, even though votes are still being counted.

Kemp was found to have delayed processing over 50,000 voter registrations, primarily from Black voters, in his capacity as Secretary of State. While those voters were still allowed to vote with legally required ID, the delay caused confusion among voters leading up to Election Day, according to the New York Times. Further, the Georgia chapter of the NAACP filed a complaint in late October claiming that voting machines were switching early votes for Abrams to votes for Kemp. And on Election Day itself, many voters in the greater Atlanta area had to wait in line for hours at their polling place because there were so few working machines present, even though other voting machines sat unused in storage.

The combination of all these elements has Abrams, her supporters, and voting rights groups ready to fight for fair election results where everyone’s vote is counted accurately. By refusing to back down amid tactics that likely benefitted her opponent, Abrams is fighting not just for her own victory, but also for voting rights more broadly in a time when they are deeply under attack.

It wasn’t just Georgians who had to deal with voter suppression leading up to these midterms, but registered voters all over the country. North Dakota lawmakers passed a new law requiring voters to have an ID that includes a street address, making it much more difficult for Native Americans who live on rural reservations to qualify to vote. And several other states including Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio passed new, stricter voter ID laws earlier this year, the New Yorker reports.

As conservative legislators continue to make it harder for people (especially people of color) to vote, we need champions for voting rights and integrity in office. By refusing to give in to Kemp’s claim to the win, Abrams is demonstrating that integrity in elections still matters, and must matter. Unlike Kemp, Abrams is not attempting to subvert or undermine the process by delaying registrations and declaring victories in a very tight race that hasn’t been officially decided. She is merely insisting that there can be no winner in this election until each of the votes has been tallied.

And for now, that’s exactly what’s happening in Georgia. Officials are still counting provisional and other ballots that hadn’t yet been counted, where the final results of the election won’t be known until Friday at the earliest.

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(Image via Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

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