Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams discusses voter suppression, disillusionment

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of John Bazemore

The most memorable moments of the 2018 primaries are embedded in this year’s SXSW Interactive track. Congress rookie Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shared her opinions on “The New Left” this past Saturday, but Monday morning at the Hilton Downtown, 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, D-GA, took center stage.

Abrams made history last year by becoming the country’s first black female gubernatorial candidate of a major political party. After losing the Georgia governor race to incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp, R-GA, the Georgian politician created more buzz as reports of nonwhite voter suppression came in from around the state. In addition to promoting her latest book “Lead from the Outside,” Abrams used her featured session to discuss the topics of political responsibility, voter disillusionment and personal struggle.

To begin her interview, PBS NewsHour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor commented on Abrams’ disappointment in the 2018 election results. Abrams expressed her resentment towards the status quo, but more so, she’s upset by the lack of closure the campaign’s conclusion presented.

“Usually in an election, people just tell you they don’t like you, and you move on with your life,” Abrams said. “In this case, I don’t know if they didn’t like me because we didn’t get a fair election.”

Abrams clarified that election error is not a case of voter fraud as president Donald Trump claimed with the 2016 race, but rather, one of voter confusion and suppression. The former candidate said mistakes arise because voting laws often vary from county to county, and systems are put in place to prevent citizen ballots.

“We have real time records of what happened with voter suppression, not only in Georgia but nationwide,” Abrams said. “The difference is I’m right, and (Trump’s) wrong.”

Though the path of the discussion aligned for Abrams to comment on Trump’s role in America’s current challenges, Abrams said that little action from Congress is at fault.

“When you’re focused on your enemies, you’re ignoring your allies,” Abrams said. “(Trump’s) symptomatic of the problem, but he’s not the problem.”

Reflecting further on government errors, Abrams said Democrats didn’t lose the 2016 race because of the “the genius of Trump,” but instead due to limited community interaction. Abrams then explained the persuasion turnout mindset, in which candidates categorize voters based on prior loyalty. To stop the cycle in 2020, Abrams said the party must speak to all citizens regardless of current political affiliation.

“You need to be persuaded that the whole system matters, and we have to treat every single community group as a persuasion (group),” Abrams said.

Another problem presented during the discussion was Democrats’ response to disillusioned voters. Abrams said politicians are easily distracted by political and racial divides, when voter concerns should supercede such divisions.

“I ran in one of the most diverse states in the nation but I had the same conversation (with voters) whether it was in North Georgia, Atlanta or Albany,” Abrams said. “What didn’t change was what I talked about but how I talked about it.”

Though initially hesitant on the topic, Abrams couldn’t help but clear the rumors on her potential bid to run for president in 2020. The former Georgia minority leader said after serving in more positions, she is set to take on the challenge in 2028.

“I don’t think we should use jobs as stepping stones. We should use them as opportunities to learn, but more importantly, to serve,” Abrams said. “(By 2028), I will definitely have done the work necessary to carry that out effectively and well.”