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Stacey Abrams: Voting rights not a question of partisanship, but of ‘peopleship’

There is a growing fight over voting access in the U.S. and Georgia is at the center of the conflict, with Democrat Stacey Abrams as a driving force behind change in the state. On Tuesday, Abrams was honored at the National Democratic Institute's Madeleine K. Albright Celebration for Women's Risk-Takers. She spoke to Amna Nawaz about the challenges of maintaining a healthy democracy.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now to the growing fight over voting access in this country.

    Georgia is at the center of the conflict. And Stacey Abrams is a driving force behind change there.

    Earlier today, Abrams was honored at the National Democratic Institute's Madeleine K. Albright event celebrating women's empowerment.

    She spoke with our Amna Nawaz about the challenges of maintaining a healthy democracy.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I'd like to begin in Texas with some news today, where a number of corporations, huge corporations, like Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft and others, are explicitly calling for expanded voting rights and voting access in response to Republican proposals that would limit that access.

    And we have seen similar efforts, of course, in Georgia and other places. I'm curious about what you think it is right now, about this moment in U.S. history that is pulling some of these companies off the sidelines and into the fight to protect voting rights?

  • Stacey Abrams:

    What we saw in January of 2021, the juxtaposition of the election of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, the first Black senator from Georgia, the first Jewish senator from Georgia, eclipsed hours later by sedition seditionists who stormed the Capitol and murdered law enforcement officers, this insurrection, has now taken root in our states.

    And this is no longer a question of partisanship. It is not a question of which party is electing their leaders. It's a question of citizenship, who has the right to be heard in our nation. And while we, unfortunately, had silence during much of the debate here in Georgia, I believe the amplification of that issue and the ability to point out the direct connection, the DNA between denying access to the right to vote and the changing of outcomes for the most vulnerable communities is why we're hearing corporations speak out more forcefully and precipitously.

    What's happening in Texas is important because what it signals is that we are no longer viewing voting rights as simply a question of partisanship. We are seeing it as a question of peopleship. The quality of our democracy is dictated not by the people who have the easiest time voting, but how hard we're willing to work to make certain that no one has a difficult time casting a ballot.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We know, of course, that there are hundreds of new laws that would similarly restrict access, access that had been introduced and proposed in dozens of states across the country.

    What do you think the impact of those laws could be when you look ahead specifically to the midterm elections? Are you concerned that Democrats could actually lose control of the House and Senate as a result of those?

  • Stacey Abrams:

    Yes, as a partisan, I am concerned about whether my party, which tends to be over-representative of communities of color, of communities that are disadvantaged and marginalized, that the party to which I pledge allegiance, or at least I have given my fealty, that the party could lose.

    But I honestly want us to return to the fundamentals of voting. In a nation like the U.S., with its changing demography, if the response to increased participation by communities of color, by young people, by women, if their response is to restrict their access and impede their participation, that is a very, very strong signal that we are heading in the wrong direction, and that our democracy is not safe, it is not sound, and it is not resilient.

    We have to be better than that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, let me ask you about how the efforts could be brought in to protect those voting rights, then, because we see these are largely Republican-led efforts to restrict that voting access.

    Do you believe that Democrats are right now doing everything they can, using every tool in the toolkit to protect that voting access?

  • Stacey Abrams:

    I think, on the state level, you are seeing so many people come together to fight against these bills.

    That's one of the reasons it is a popular topic of conversation. It's because we have made it a necessary part of dinner conversation, that this is no longer an annoyance that happens and disappears on Election Day, but that this is about the fundamentals of how our democracy works.

    But I also know that we require federal legislation. Article 1, Section 4, the Elections Clause, in the U.S. Constitution delegates to the states the right to administer elections, but it reserves to Congress the ability to set baselines and foundations.

    And so we need to pass the For the People Act. We need to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. I am pleased that the Senate is — seems to be making progress, that there is conversation. This is going to take time.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, let me ask you this about that bill, then. As it sits with the Senate, we know that the majority leader, Chuck Schumer, has said it probably has an August deadline.

    Do you believe that advancing that bill, a sweeping voting rights bill, should be the priority for this administration, for this president for his next 100 days?

  • Stacey Abrams:

    I think it is absolutely a central centerpiece of his initiative.

    I would not, however, say that we can afford to abandon his — the importance of fighting for the American Jobs Act, fighting for the American Family Act, in part because the reason we vote — and I want to be very clear about this. We vote not because of the act of casting a ballot. We vote for the policies that follow after, for the ways that our government helps make our lives, if not easier, then at least improves our access to increasing our opportunity.

    And so the absolute result of what we saw happen in 2020 and 2021 are the bills that we see moving, those priority bills that the president and his Cabinet are speaking about all over this country.

    But, at the exact same time, we must protect the very mechanism that makes those policies possible. And that is the passage of the For the People Act, particularly the voting rights component.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Stacey Abrams, I thank you very much for your time, for this conversation.

    And congratulations again on the honor.

  • Stacey Abrams:

    Thank you so much, Amna.

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