Hot de­bate is­sues: Voter sup­pres­sion, flag-burn­ing


Demo­crat Stacey Abrams and Repub­li­can Brian Kemp in their first tele­vised de­bate traded ac­cu­sa­tions of wrong­do­ing re­lated to vot­ing but ig­nited no bomb­shells that would have a ma­jor im­pact on the race for gover­nor of Ge­or­gia.

Kemp again warded off claims that his of­fice has held up thou­sands of voter reg­is­tra­tion ap­pli­ca­tions by African-amer­i­cans and other mi­nori­ties — a theme of the Abrams cam­paign. That nar­ra­tive has been re­in­forced by com­plaints and law­suits filed by groups in­clud­ing the NAACP and the ACLU.

“This farce about voter sup­pres­sion and be­ing held up on the rolls and not be­ing able to vote is ab­so­lutely not true,” Kemp said. To which Abrams heat­edly replied, “Un­der Sec­re­tary Kemp, more peo­ple have lost the right to vote in the state of Ge­or­gia, they’ve been purged, they’ve been sup­pressed and they’ve been scared.”

Re­turn­ing fire, Kemp told Abrams a video clearly showed she asked for “un­doc­u­mented and doc­u­mented folks to be part of your win­ning strat­egy.” He asked, “So why are you en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to break the law for you in this elec­tion?” Abrams replied: “I have never in my life asked for any­one in­el­i­gi­ble to vote to cast a bal­lot.”

Kemp did not bring up Abrams’ tak­ing part in the burn­ing of a Ge­or­gia flag in 1992 when she was a col­lege stu­dent, an in­ci­dent that hit so­cial me­dia the day be­fore the de­bate. But Abrams brought it up, say­ing she was re­act­ing to the racism be­hind the in­clu­sion of the Con­fed­er­ate em­blem on the 1956 state flag. “Twenty-six years ago as a col­lege fresh­man,” Abrams said, “I, along with many other Ge­or­gians, in­clud­ing the gover­nor of Ge­or­gia, were deeply dis­turbed by the racial di­vi­sive­ness that was em­bed­ded in the state flag with that Con­fed­er­ate sym­bol.”

Abrams has made clear her op­po­si­tion to Con­fed­er­ate memo­ri­als and has said the carv­ing of Con­fed­er­ate Pres­i­dent Jef­fer­son Davis and Gen­er­als Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jack­son should be re­moved: “Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ments be­long in mu­se­ums where we can study and re­flect on that ter­ri­ble his­tory, not in places of honor across our state.”

Keep­ing voter sup­pres­sion ac­cu­sa­tions alive, a fed­eral district court judge in Wash­ing­ton is­sued a rul­ing that blocked Ge­or­gia of­fi­cials from re­ject­ing ab­sen­tee bal­lots or reg­is­tra­tion ap­pli­ca­tions be­cause of a mis­matched sig­na­ture. The court man­dated no­tice and op­por­tu­nity to cure the prob­lem — which Kemp says his of­fice al­ready is do­ing. He has said peo­ple on the pend­ing list only need to “go to the polls, show their photo ID and they can vote.”

Seek­ing to por­tray Abrams as more main­stream than the avowed pro­gres­sive she is, the ACLU launched an $800,000 tele­vi­sion ad cam­paign call­ing for re­form of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem and show­ing Abrams shak­ing hands with pop­u­lar Gov. Nathan Deal, hark­ing back to her sup­port as a state leg­is­la­tor for re­form leg­is­la­tion. Su­per­im­posed on the ad: “Abrams & Deal. Re­duce Costs.” The voice of a fe­male nar­ra­tor says: “Ge­or­gia spends mil­lions keep­ing low-level of­fend­ers locked up. Stacey Abrams joined Nathan Deal on bi­par­ti­san re­forms to re­duce costs, and Stacey Abrams will end de­pen­dence on pri­vate pris­ons, sav­ing mil­lions that could be used for treat­ment.”

You might say Abrams is try­ing to ride Deal’s coat­tails — even though the gover­nor has en­dorsed Kemp in a new TV ad. This is pol­i­tics in Ge­or­gia. Any­thing can and does hap­pen.

Con­tact Don Mckee at dm­c­


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