Election Law Expert: 'No Good Evidence' Voter Laws Changed Outcomes in Georgia, Florida

PolitiFact knocks Kamala Harris for claiming voter suppression prevented Abrams, Gillum from winning governor's races

Sen. Kamala Harris / Getty Images
May 10, 2019

An election law expert said Democrats should stop claiming the Georgia and Florida governor's races in 2018 were "stolen" by Republicans, saying there is no evidence to support such a notion.

Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California-Irvine, told PolitiFact that Democrats Stacey Abrams (Ga.) and Andrew Gillum (Fla.) and their allies didn't have proof to substantiate their frequent complaints.

"I have seen no good evidence that the suppressive effects of strict voting and registration laws affected the outcome of the governor's races in Georgia and Florida," he said. "It would be one thing to claim, as some have, that these laws are aimed to suppress the vote and likely suppressed some votes. It is quite another to claim that there is good proof they affected the outcome."

PolitiFact looked into the cases after 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) told the NAACP: "Let's say this loud and clear. Without voter suppression, Stacey Abrams would be the governor of Georgia, Andrew Gillum is the governor of Florida."

The fact-checking site elected not to rate Harris's claim on its Truth-O-Meter, stating, "It isn't possible to prove if any election law or policy in either state cost the Democrats their elections." However, it reviewed the evidence and found Harris's claim to be dubious.

In Georgia, Abrams has repeatedly insisted "I won" the race against Republican Brian Kemp, accusing him of systematic voter suppression during his tenure as secretary of state by purging voter rolls and closing rural precincts—the latter was outside his office's purview. Kemp defeated Abrams by nearly 55,000 votes and won a majority of the vote to avoid a runoff.

The voter suppression argument centers around Kemp's office removing 1.4 million voters from the rolls between 2012 and 2018. The removals were in accordance with state laws about maintaining accurate records, PolitiFact noted:

Many died, moved away or lost their right to vote because they committed felonies — all routine reasons for removing voters in any state.

But many other residents were removed because they skipped previous elections and had no contact with the election officials.

Although that removal policy started in the 1990s under Democratic leadership, the numbers spiked in 2017 when the state purged about 500,000 voters in one night. By the end of 2017, about 670,000 people, or about 10 percent of voters, were removed from the rolls. Voting rights advocates raised alarm about the massive purge while Kemp defended the responsibility of election officials to maintain voter rolls.

The race made national news when the Associated Press reported on Kemp's office placing 53,000 voters, many of them African-American, on "pending" status over an "exact match" law based on state and social security records. However, pending applicants could still vote if they provided a valid photo identification at the polls, Kemp's office said.

Another knock against Abrams's case: Georgia voter turnout spiked in 2018 compared to the last midterm election in 2014, with 57 percent of registered voters casting ballots in the governor's race. While Kemp was secretary of state in 2016, Georgia starting enacting automatic voter registration when citizens got their driver's licenses.

PolitiFact failed to note that besides Harris, prominent Democrats like Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Eric Holder, Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) have repeated Abrams's claim that the race was stolen by Kemp.

Harris relied on a report from the left-wink thing tank Center for American Progress to bolster her claims. PolitiFact wrote it made a "less persuasive" case on Florida, where Gillum lost by 33,000 votes:

It mentions that ballots that were rejected in Georgia and Florida because voter signatures on ballots didn't match those on file. But we found no evidence that rejected ballots swayed the outcome of the election.

In Florida, 83,000 ballots were deemed invalid, because they were either left blank, the voter chose more than one candidate, among other issues. We can't know how many intended to vote for Gillum.

Gillum conceded on Election Night to Republican Ron DeSantis, then retracted his concession, then conceded again.

In March, he told HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher that, "Had we been able to legally count every one of those votes not just in Florida but also in Georgia, I wonder what the outcome may be."

PolitiFact noted in its conclusion that Harris ignored factors that led to Kemp and DeSantis winning their races. President Donald Trump endorsed both candidates, who ran in states Trump carried in 2016. Abrams and Gillum ran on baldly liberal platforms but fell short.