Former president Donald Trump’s efforts to discredit his electoral loss in Georgia were hardly unprecedented.
To many people, President Donald Trump’s effort to overturn an election may have seemed unprecedented. Many members of the media have cast Trump’s efforts as unheard of. But sitting in Georgia, it was impossible to watch the events after November 3 without seeing the unmistakable signs of the Stacey Abrams playbook: Don’t concede. Say you were cheated. Allege voter irregularities. File lawsuits. Get witness testimony. Raise money. Repeat.
The parallels in their statements alone are compelling enough. After losing by 55,000 votes in November 2018, Abrams said: “This is not a speech of concession. Concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper. . . . I cannot concede.” After losing by a slimmer 12,000 votes, President Trump told the crowd gathered in Washington, D.C., on January 6 that “we will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.”
On January 6, President Trump said his supporters should “fight like hell” and that “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Abrams said just a few weeks ago about elections legislation in Georgia that “we are at war, fighting to protect our democracy from domestic enemies at this moment.”
President Trump made unproven allegations of widespread voter fraud his main focus. Members of the media understandably fact-checked the conspiracy theories and made a habit of adding “without evidence” to their reporting.
Abrams, on the other hand, pointed to unproven claims of “voter suppression” to explain her loss in Georgia. However, there has been little to no fact-checking from mainstream outlets of her claims. She has not been pressed to provide evidence and there have been no “without evidence” tags on her continued claims that her election was stolen, even though the “evidence” submitted by Trump and Abrams was the same — inaccurate witness statements that did not stand up to even basic scrutiny.
Instead, in 2018, as now-President Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and others throughout the Democrat establishment endorsed the idea that the election was stolen, also without evidence, only the Washington Post’s fact-checker acknowledged that Abrams and her allies were “alleging illegal activity that hasn’t been proven — and seems unlikely to be.” Two years later, after the stolen-election narrative had become gospel for Democrats, USA Today could only muster up a “partly false.”
Abrams’s claims of “voter suppression” trace back to at least 2014, when she first planned to use voter suppression as a political tool. Documents uncovered by my office through litigation show that the Voter Access Institute, the predecessor to Abrams’s voting advocacy PAC Fair Fight Action, poll-tested “themes of voter suppression” as a get-out-the-vote strategy.
Tellingly, when cross-examined in a 2019 deposition for that litigation, the head of Fair Fight Action admitted she could point to no cases where a voter was denied the right to vote in 2018 because of his or her race.
And yet, in the two years between Abrams’s loss and last November, Abrams and her allies made attacking Georgia’s election system their calling card. When Georgia brought in a new paper-ballot voting system, one that proved invaluable in upholding Georgia’s vote, Abrams’s Fair Fight Action called it “corruption at its worst.” Sidney Powell cited that baseless conspiracy theory in her lawsuit against Georgia’s elections.
Abrams, Fair Fight Action, and their allies were also no strangers to switched- or missing-vote conspiracy theories. In that same filing, Powell cited Fair Fight Action’s raising concerns about “hackable voting machines.” Fair Fight Action had claimed without evidence that Georgia’s old voting system “erased 100,000 votes in ’18.” The group’s February 2019 legal filing against my office claimed that “defendants place voters at risk of having their voter registrations, and votes, removed or changed.” This too was backed by little more than speculation. The filing cites two cases in an election with 4 million ballots cast in which individuals claimed they had trouble selecting Abrams, but were ultimately able to.
Abrams allies took these allegations even further. The Daily Wire recently found that a group primarily funded by Abrams’s Fair Fight Action believes politicians were bribed to switch votes using Georgia’s election system. In responding to the report, the group said a new filing in litigation ongoing since the 2018 election would “show ‘serious problems with the Dominion voting system’” Georgia used in the November 2020 election.
These wild claims of switched votes and hackable machines would be used to devastating effect by President Trump and his allies in alleging that the election in Georgia had been stolen. Confidence in Georgia’s election systems suffered greatly.
The similarities extend further to basic misunderstandings of law. Donald Trump and his allies have repeatedly referred to a nonexistent consent decree with Stacey Abrams. It was actually a settlement agreement between the Georgia attorney general on one side and several Democratic groups on the other. They claim that it got rid of signature matching even though the signature-match rejection rate remained the same between November 2018 and November 2020.
The most significant legal fiction pushed by Abrams, Democrats, and numerous major media outlets focuses on the closing of polling precincts since the 2013 Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. Though any decisions about polling precincts and polling locations are entirely up to county governments, Abrams and other prominent Democrats have pushed the conspiracy theory that Republicans at the state level have some hand in closing polling locations in neighborhoods with large minority populations. The irony is that those decisions are made entirely by county governments and, in most places that have large minority populations, county governments are run by Democrats. Judge Steve Jones of the Northern District of Georgia, a President Obama appointee, ruled as much in February of this year.
While President Trump may have taken the Abrams playbook to a new extreme, politicians denying election results for partisan gain is clearly a bipartisan problem. Because sitting in Georgia on January 6, it was clear where all of this started. Many pointed to the evidence-free Russian-collusion conspiracy theory that Democrats and many media outlets pushed after 2016. But the playbook, the real step by step for how a major politician could challenge a fair and free election, was put forward by Stacey Abrams after 2018. In the two years since, President Biden, Vice President Harris, and their allies in the media helped paved the path that President Trump followed. Ending this practice, and protecting this important pillar of democracy, will require honesty and integrity from both sides of the aisle.
The essay above is excerpted from a larger essay published in National Affairs. That essay can be read here.