Abrams urged lawmakers to address the issue on the sixth anniversary of Shelby County v. Holder, the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which had required jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory practices to have their voting rules pre-cleared by the federal government.
House Democrats invited Abrams, who lost Georgia’s gubernatorial race last year, to testify before the House Judiciary subcommittee on civil rights about the Supreme Court ruling and its effect on subsequent elections.
“The Shelby decision created a new channel for the troubling practice of voter suppression during a time of dramatic demographic change,” Abrams told the panel.
“Among the states, however, Georgia has been one of the most aggressive in leveraging the lack of federal oversight to use both law and policy to target voters of color,” she added.
During her testimony, Abrams said that the 2013 ruling led to unfair voter registration blackout periods, “exact-match” registration requirements and excessive voter roll purges that disproportionately affect voters of color.
She described those tactics as an “assault” that hurts all voters in the U.S.
“No assault on democracy will ever be limited to its targets. As the franchise is weakened, all citizens will feel the effects,” Abrams said.
The Democrat also revived her criticisms against her former gubernatorial opponent, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who previously served as Georgia’s secretary of state. Abrams has previously referred to Kemp as an “architect of voter suppression.”
“During the tenure of Secretary of State Brian Kemp, 1.4 million voters were purged,” Abrams said Tuesday.
“The challenge is that in Georgia, we face not only malfeasance but incompetence,” she continued, arguing that people were being unnecessarily removed from voter rolls.
Abrams launched the voting rights advocacy group Fair Fight Action after losing her bid for governor during the 2018 midterm elections.
At the time, Kemp faced criticism for a state policy that required voter applications to perfectly match the information in state and federal databases, putting 53,000 voter registrations in Georgia on hold.
Under the policy, any discrepancies on the application, however small, including a missing hyphen or varied spelling, could render the voter registration incomplete. About 70% of the affected applications belonged to black people, according to an Associated Press analysis.
Abrams advised the committee against dismissing threats to voters’ rights, especially amid rising voter turnout.
“In the state of Georgia, there has been an argument that because we had the highest voter turnout record in 2018, there could not have been voter suppression,” Abrams said. “That’s the moral equivalent of saying that just because more people get in the water, there cannot be sharks.”