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Former Georgia Gubernatorial Candidate On A Push For Voter Turnout

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Nearly 100 million and counting Americans are casting record-breaking numbers of early ballots, putting this 2020 election on track for record-setting levels of voter turnout. That is true in many parts of the country, including one state that has emerged - something of a surprise - as a top-tier presidential swing state, Georgia. Well, Georgia Democrat and former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is among those working to get out the vote, and she joins me now.

Stacey Abrams, welcome.

STACEY ABRAMS: Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

KELLY: We're glad to have you with us. Start with what does look to be historic turnout levels. And if I could ask you just set aside for a sec the eventual outcome, purely from the point of view of getting out the vote, of getting Americans participating in our democracy, is this a win?

ABRAMS: Absolutely. I've been working for the last two years on protecting and defending our democracy, and that means every eligible voter having the opportunity to cast their ballots and to be included in the count. And so I think regardless of your partisanship when you cast your ballot, we have to remember that our electoral system is not partisan. Democracy should work for everyone. And I'm pleased to see so many Americans taking advantage of it.

KELLY: People listening will recall you ran for governor in 2018, and the results were really close. You lost by one point - 1.4 points, to be precise - in an election that was clouded by claims of voter suppression. How confident are you in the integrity of this year's vote in Georgia?

ABRAMS: We've been able to make great strides in mitigating many of the harms we saw perpetrated against Georgia voters in 2018, from purging to closure of polling places to mismanagement and underfunding of resources for polling locations. We were able to quash the exact match system so more voters were able to make it through the process. We were able to get a cure process put in place so that those who file absentee ballots can fix them if they make minor mistakes. And these are important markers of progress. We still, however, face long lines. But those lines can only be signals not only of enthusiasm, but if we get in those lines and do our work, it's how we can continue to make more progress by electing more and more people who believe that the right to vote should be made real for everyone.

KELLY: So bottom line, I mean, you sound confident that Georgians should expect a free and fair election in their state this year.

ABRAMS: I am confident that we are going to work hard to make it so. But I know that, unfortunately, the secretary of state has been a part of the Trump administration's larger misinformation narrative that has caused some concern. But my belief is that because voters are more prepared, because we have more people working to ensure access to the right to vote, that we can meet any challenges in this upcoming election, and we will fight for every vote to be cast and every vote to be counted.

KELLY: Just to be clear, when you're talking about misinformation, you're talking about claims that the election would be rigged, that mail-in ballots might lead to fraud, that type thing.

ABRAMS: Correct. We had this very surprising and very unfounded accusation by the secretary of state a few weeks ago about voting. But I don't want to repeat the claims because one of the ways misinformation proliferates is that we keep validating these claims by saying them aloud. My point is, every voter who's eligible to vote in Georgia - if you haven't voted early, you should show up and vote on Tuesday. You have the right to vote, and we will work hard to make that right real.

KELLY: I mentioned you have been super focused on getting people out to vote, getting first-timers registered. You founded the voter rights organization Fair Fight, which looks like it has registered more than 800,000 new voters in Georgia. That is a lot. Talk to me about the significance, how that changes an election.

ABRAMS: I want to be clear. So I created an organization about six years ago called the New Georgia Project. That has focused exclusively on voter registration. And New Georgia Project is part of a consortium of organizations that have been working hard to register voters of color and voters who are unlikely voters. We also have had easier voting processes made possible because of the Motor Voter Act being really fully implemented in the state of Georgia. And so 800,000 new voters are an incredible number, but the credit should be shared.

I will say, of those numbers, what we are excited about is that 45% of those new voters are under the age of 30. Forty-nine percent are people of color. And all 800,000 came on the rolls after November '18, which means these are voters who weren't eligible to vote for me but are eligible to participate in this upcoming election. And we have been working assiduously to get them turned out.

KELLY: Tell me specifically what you are watching for tomorrow in Georgia or - and beyond, across the nation.

ABRAMS: We know that on the partisan side, Democrats took full advantage of the multiple opportunities to vote early, either voting by mail or voting early in person. Republicans, by and large, signaled that they wanted to wait for in-person early voting or voting on Election Day. My hope is that what we have seen in states where we've seen Democratic edges because of the early voting - that we will continue to see Democrats turning out, staying in line, not losing their right to vote and remembering that the right to vote is theirs no matter the intimidation or the concerns. Don't panic. Stay in line. If you have questions, call 866-Our-Vote.

KELLY: So the message to voters - no matter who you're voting for, if you haven't voted yet, go do it. Stand in line. Wait your turn. Get it done.

ABRAMS: Exactly. And turn in your absentee ballot.

KELLY: Okie dokie (ph). That is former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.

Thanks so much.

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