By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
Aiming to bring voter suppression sharply into focus, former Georgia Gubernatorial Candidate Stacey Abrams recently launched Fair Fight 2020 in a Gwinnett County elementary school, a voting site that experienced “technical difficulties” and caused lines to back up on Election Day.
Gwinnett County has 156 voting precincts, according to The Atlanta Journal. At least five voting precincts experienced “technical difficulties” (malfunctioning machines, a missing power cord, or dead batteries); in fact, “technical difficulties” at one location caused hundreds of voters to wait more than four hours to cast their ballot and officials to extend voting hours.
And this is why Abrams recently launched Fair Fight 2020. It is a multi-million dollar project that aims to prevent voter suppression in 20 states by next year’s election. Specifically, it will train activists to spot problems at polling places before the election is held in 2010.
Abrams had been considered as one who might enter the already overcrowded Democratic presidential field, but the announcement of her new direction settles that question. She did tell the New York Times on August 14 she would be “honored to be considered by any nominee,” for the vice-president’s spot.
At her recent press conference she explained some new safeguards her effort would put in place, by citing lessons-learned.
“The goal is going to be for us to have meaningful effects on ensuring that voters know their rights, they have access to ballots, that they will be able to effectively counter what Republicans will be doing,” Abrams said.
For example, at Gwinnett County’s Anniston Elementary School, where Abrams held her recent news conference, polling managers noticed malfunctioning machines but did not begin handing out paper ballots, as is protocol, until hours later. So, a judge ordered that location stay open an additional 20 minutes, The Daily Beast reported on Nov. 6.
Various “technical difficulties” surfaced in other polling precincts, according to scores of news reports. For example, Gwinnett County spokesperson Joe Sorenson, who is in charge of overseeing a total of 156 precincts in the county, said four of the five locations started the day with malfunctioning electronic Express Polls machines.
“One of those locations, Anderson-Livsey Elementary School, had a machine that was operating on battery power because the county had not supplied it a power cord in a pre-packaged kit. That one was on us,” Sorenson said. “The package didn’t come from the state. It came from the county.”
The greatest lesson learned was that multiple polling sites claimed to have “technical difficulties,” Abrams added, “One thing we learned in 2018 is that we built an infrastructure that was able to be responsive. . .My mission is to make certain that we’ve learned from our election but also elections across the gamut and that we’re able to fight and push through and make sure more people have the right to vote.”
Kemp, the Republican candidate for governor, was in charge of elections and voter registration in Georgia. According to records obtained from Kemp’s office through a public records request, 53,000 registrations were flagged or put on hold in Kemp’s office. The voter registration forms were flagged because they did conform to the state’s “exact match” verification process.
Under the policy, information on voter applications must precisely match information on file with the Georgia Department of Driver Services or the Social Security Administration. Election officials can place non-matching applications on hold. An application could be held because of an entry error or a dropped hyphen in a last name, for example.
With the 2018 gubernatorial race only weeks away, in October, national civil rights group’s sued Georgia’s top election official for blocking 53,000 people from voting in the midterms, the majority of which were African-American. The precincts are located in the second-largest county in the state that voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the county since 1976.
On Nov. 2, a judge ruled against what was called “exact match” registration, such as a dropped hyphen, which could flag a person’s voter registration and must be cleared first by a deputy registrar when seeking to vote.
Specifically, U.S. District Judge Eleanor L. Ross ruled that the procedures were likely to result in the violation of voting rights for a large group of people and needed to be halted immediately, according to The Washington Post.
The preliminary injunction she issued required the state to change its procedures immediately to allow those flagged, some 3,100 individuals, to prove their citizenship more easily, with a U.S. passport or similar documentation, and only to a poll manager. “It also signaled that the coalition of civil rights groups that brought the case against Kemp would probably succeed should the lawsuit continue,” The Washington Post noted.
Of the new Fair Fight 2020 initiative, Abrams said, at the recent press conference, “What we are aware of and we are preparing to fight back against is that the sheer scale of voter suppression sometimes overwhelms the ability to push back.
By setting up these voter protection agencies … we’re getting ready to push back against anything they can come up (with). But the most important piece is that we’re not reacting alone. We’re actually going to be proactively guaranteeing that people know what their rights are, and the people who are best situated to know these rights have the resources and information they need.”
Abrams added, “This is focused on not simply the presidential election but also the Senate races that are so critical and the down-ballot races that for many states determine who draws the maps for redistricting. By coming in early and using our learnings for 2018, and also what we learned from the process of building our litigation, we’ve been able to uncover and process some information that will be very helpful to states and state parties to ensure they are prepared for what’s to come.”