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Stacey Abrams' Allies Suing Georgia Over How Governor's Race Was Run


Stacey Abrams may have lost the battle for governor of Georgia, but she and her supporters are still fighting, fighting the state over how it runs its elections. Yesterday, allies of Abrams filed an extensive lawsuit accusing the state of disenfranchising poor and minority voters. Abrams, who was the Democratic candidate in this month's gubernatorial election, explained her concerns on Morning Edition after the race was called.


STACEY ABRAMS: I'm not suggesting that I know I would have won, but I am saying that the results were unalterably made less safe and less secure because of the actions taken by the secretary of state.

KELLY: The secretary of state, who was Brian Kemp, the Republican who oversaw his own race and was elected governor of Georgia. Here to discuss the strategy behind the lawsuit is University of California, Irvine professor and election law expert Richard Hasen. Welcome.

RICHARD HASEN: Good to be with you.

KELLY: So you have written a piece about all this for Slate, and I'll start by quoting your opening line, which is this - "Abrams and her allies are taking on Georgia's shoddy election system in the right way, through a big and bold lawsuit." Why do you believe this is the right way?

HASEN: So this is not a typical voting lawsuit that you might see that focuses on just one aspect of a state's election law like its decision to purge voters or the state of its voter registration database. This, instead, argues that the sum is greater than each part, that if you think of each one of these as an obstacle, it's as though Georgia has set up an obstacle course that the voters have to overcome if they want to be able to cast a ballot.

KELLY: Yeah. I mean, the lawsuit argues that Brian Kemp and his allies violated all kinds of things, from the Voting Rights Act to the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment.

HASEN: Right. So the lawsuit makes a number of different claims. What's most interesting is that some of the claims argue that there was intentional racial discrimination in voting. And the reason that's so important is that if that could be proven, it would give the court that finds intentional discrimination the potential to put Georgia back under federal supervision for its voting laws for up to 10 years. Georgia used to be subject to these rules under the Voting Rights Act until the Supreme Court in 2013 killed that part of the act in a case called Shelby County vs. Holder.

KELLY: Do you see risk of a backlash? Do Stacey Abrams and her team maybe risk pushing the Georgia state legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, to think about erecting more barriers to voting?

HASEN: Well, it's possible that Georgia might choose to take other actions that might make it harder to register and vote, and then those would, I presume, be added to the lawsuit. I do think, though, that under existing law, many of the claims that Abrams is making face an uphill battle. We've seen the Supreme Court, for example, in recent years make it harder to bring lawsuits claiming that efforts to make it harder for people to vote violate the Voting Rights Act.

And so it is not clear to me that this is going to be a legal winner of a lawsuit, but it could be a political winner, even if it's not a legal winner, because it reminds voters what is at stake. And what we've seen in Georgia, in North Dakota and in other states is that when states make it harder for people to register and vote, there's sometimes a backlash there where extra efforts are put in, more money is put in, more effort is put in, to make sure that all of those barriers are overcome. That doesn't justify these laws. There's no reason to put barriers in front of voters unless they're serving an important purpose.

KELLY: Do you see national implications beyond Georgia?

HASEN: Well, I do think that as these lawsuits go forward, you have both voting rights advocates and states looking at how the lawsuits are being run. And if the lawsuit is successful, that would be a warning to other states not to try to emulate Georgia. And, of course, if it's unsuccessful and if there's no political backlash, maybe that serves as more of a green light. But I do think that voting rights is likely given what we've seen in 2018 to be a major issue as we head into the 2020 elections.

KELLY: Richard Hasen - he is the chancellor's professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine. Thanks so much.

HASEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.