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By Nicholas Morgan                                                   Follow East Palo Alto Today on
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August 26, 2020                                           EPA Today Facebook page Follow epatoday on Twitter EPA Today Blog Icon


Screenshot of Nicole Taylor, Stacey Abrams and Larry Kramer
Screenshot of Nicole Taylor, Stacey Abrams and Larry Kramer. Courtesy of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation's replay on YouTube of its Get out the Vote in 2020 ... conversation with Stacey Abrams

Former Georgia gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams described efforts to suppress votes nationwide ahead of the November 3 presidential election.

Speaking at a discussion hosted by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) on Thursday, August 13, Abrams spoke about efforts across the United States that could suppress millions of voters before November. Drawing on the work of her national nonprofit Fair Fight, Abrams said it is important to look back on efforts to ensure access to the ballot to understand the current challenges.

“We have been able to really gin up over the last year an engagement and level of awareness that is critical, because voter suppression works best when people are convinced they cannot vote or should not vote,” Abrams told SVCF President Nicole Taylor.

Comparing the present fight against voter suppression to previous ones, Abrams insisted that the strict laws passed after 2010 impose new obstacles that replace outright intimidation. Voter suppression is no longer police batons and dogs, but it can be seen now in the strict voting laws enacted by many states post-2010

 Some of these are well known like stringent voter-ID requirements, but others include “use it or lose it” laws that purge inactive voters from registrations.

She said that with the COVID-19 pandemic, these restrictions make it even harder for groups like young people and people of color to cast a vote.

Abrams became a champion on voting rights following her narrow defeat in the 2018 election for Governor of Georgia, a race marred by allegations of voter suppression. Following this loss, Abrams founded three nonprofits focused on voting rights: Fair Count, Fair Fight 2020 and  Fair Fight Action which has launched lawsuits challenging voter suppression in several states.

On the topic of mail-in voting, Abrams criticized the Trump administration for undermining the U.S Postal Service (USPS) which is responsible for delivering election ballots.

President Trump has consistently repeated his belief that voting by mail opens the door to fraud, something experts say is extremely rare, and he insists any outcome would cast doubt on the election’s ultimate outcome. The president, himself, and the First Lady both requested mail-in ballots for the upcoming election.

Referring to President Trump’s comments this week that he would refuse funding for USPS over mail-in voting, Abrams said he was willing to disrupt the election even at the cost of damaging American democracy. She added that these moves would not just hurt voters supporting his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, but also many of his own potential voters

“When you break the machinery of democracy, you break it for everyone,” said Abrams.

Abrams was also asked about the completion of the U.S Census for 2020. The initial end of the year deadline for filling out the Census was moved from October 31 to September 30 by the Trump administration, raising concerns that the final count may be inaccurate. If the numbers for the census are inaccurate, Abrams said that the burden would mostly be felt by communities of color.

In California, officials have decried moving the census date to September as an attack on vulnerable communities like East Palo Alto, where there are many undocumented immigrants and homeless.

Currently, California has a 2020 Census self-response rate of 65.6%. With a self-response rate of 75.5%, San Mateo County ranks the highest in the state, while the City of East Palo Alto ranks the second lowest in the county with a response rate of 59.9%.

COVID-19 only complicates data collection for the census.

Without complete and accurate data that will be held for another decade, Abrams warned that it could drastically affect public policies that could include COVID recovery or immigration. She added that the lack of accurate data would also risk misrepresenting the U.S’ racial and political make-up and serve the president’s own political ends.
Asked what should be done to protect the right to vote before November, Abrams praised California and its officials as leaders for setting the example of how to encourage voter participation despite the disruption caused by the coronavirus.

Mail-in voting in California made up a large portion of ballots in recent election cycles. According to statistics from the CA Secretary of State’s office, over 8 million votes were cast by mail in the 2016 presidential race and in the 2018 midterm elections. In the midterms, mail-in ballots accounted for 65% of all votes made.

This June, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law that allowed universal mail-in ballots to be sent to every registered voter. Secretary of State Alex Padilla also announced new efforts to inform voters on how to vote safely in November.

Improving access to information as Padilla’s office is working to do is how Abrams believes voter suppression efforts can best be overcome nationwide. She encouraged people to become aware of voter suppression, to spread information about it and to encourage others to become active participants in their elections.

“We have to tell them not to be afraid of suppression, but to be aware of it and angry about it. And the best way to express your anger is to overwhelm the system with your participation.”


Nicholas Morgan contributes articles and reports of special interest to East Palo Alto Today.