Elections

A Blue Wave of ‘Undocumented’ Voters?

Stacey Abrams, candidate for Governor in the state of Georgia, delivers a speech during a fundraiser in Manhattan, N.Y., September 24, 2018. (Amr Alfiky/Reuters )
Perhaps this is not the best talking point for a Democratic candidate.

Georgia secretary of state Brian Kemp, who is now running for governor, won his primary by doing his best imitation of President Donald Trump. But Kemp’s hopes for winning the statehouse took a serious hit when his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, seized on the fact that up to 53,000 voter-registration applications were put on hold due to the state’s “Exact Match” requirement.

The law requires voting applications to match with other existing government documents, such as driver’s licenses and Social Security records, as a check against fraud. But, like voter-ID laws, “Exact Match” has been denounced as having a disproportionate impact on African Americans — and as secretary of state, Kemp himself is charged with enforcing the law. As a result, Abrams saw an opening to allege not just racism but the use of Kemp’s own office to tilt the election in his favor.

Regarding the racism charge, Kemp could argue that he was just following a law that, beyond simply being the law, is a commonsense precaution in protecting the integrity of the vote. But the seeming conflict of interest was a blow to the Republican in what has turned out to be a highly competitive race in a red state that is, thanks to demographic changes, trending purple.

But Kemp’s problems were ameliorated, if not solved, when Abrams was taped giving a speech last week during a joint appearance with Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren in Jonesboro.

In an expansive prediction of how Democrats would sweep the country with a “blue wave,” Abrams said the following:

The thing of it is, is that blue waves aren’t blue. . . . The blue wave is African-American. It’s white, it’s Latino, it’s Asian, Pacific Islander. It is disabled. It is differently abled. It is LGBTQ. It is law enforcement. It is veterans. It is made up of those who have been told they are not worthy of being here. It is comprised of those who are documented and undocumented. It is comprised of those who have been told they’re successful and those who have been left behind.

Perhaps Abrams was just on automatic pilot, signaling her loyalty to identity politics and expressing solidarity with every possible segment of the electorate. There is nothing unusual about Democrats’ vowing to protect the “undocumented” (an inaccurate euphemism for illegal immigrants when some states give them driver’s licenses). But saying that a blue wave of Democrats will include “documented” and “undocumented” voters, as if those two categories were just two different ethnic groups with equal rights to the ballot, was astounding.

Abrams later said that she didn’t mean for “anyone who is not legally allowed to vote in the state of Georgia to be allowed to vote.” But read literally, her statement in fact implied that the distinction between “documented” and “undocumented” is meaningless when it comes to turning out the Democratic base.

Abrams’s words seemed to illustrate the classic definition of a political gaffe: when you get caught saying exactly what you mean but didn’t want to state it publicly. No, she’s not part of a plot to drag illegal immigrants to the polls in order to swing elections to the Democrats. It’s also unlikely that most of those living in the shadows would be willing to vote illegally, since doing so could expose them to being caught and deported.

But she did highlight the fact that Democrats oppose any regulations that might prevent cheating at the polls, whether by illegal immigrants or anyone else. Their focus on “voter suppression” is, despite the fervent support it receives from the mainstream media, merely a talking point to brand Republicans as racists. Polls have consistently shown that a majority of Americans of all races generally support voting-integrity laws, and it is no more difficult for minorities to register legally than it is for anyone else.

Abrams’s slip is a clear break for Kemp, who had struggled in the polls after winning the Republican nomination and has assumed only a slim lead over Abrams this month. For Abrams, it may be the tipping point: Running on her left-wing beliefs rather than moving to the center could undo her hopes of becoming the first African-American woman to be a U.S. governor.

Her comments may go down as a lesson for Democrats about how language viewed as normal on the left can play right into the hands of the Republicans. She hasn’t just taken the focus off of Kemp’s enforcement of the law. She hasn’t merely given the lie to the Democrats’ preferred narrative about racist voting laws. Abrams has made Kemp’s stand in behalf of voter integrity look entirely sensible.

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