Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams is considering mounting a longshot legal challenge that could potentially force a new governor's race, a maneuver her opponent calls "beyond desperate."
Republican Brian Kemp has declared victory in the contest, resigned as secretary of state, and prepared to transition to the governor's mansion, but Abrams has refused to concede, even though certification of Kemp's victory could come as early as Friday evening. The unofficial numbers show Kemp with about 50.2 percent of the vote and leading Abrams by nearly 55,000 votes out of nearly four million cast. She would need to net more than 17,000 votes of what's left uncounted to force a runoff, which looks increasingly unlikely.
Now, after multiple lawsuits filed to extend certification deadlines and count rejected provisional and absentee ballots, the Abrams campaign told the Associated Press that she is considering trying to challenge the result under a statute where losing candidates can charge "misconduct, fraud or irregularities … sufficient to change or place in doubt the results." The AP reports:
Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, Abrams’ campaign chairwoman, is overseeing a team of almost three-dozen lawyers who in the coming days will draft the petition, along with a ream of affidavits from voters and would-be voters who say they were disenfranchised. Abrams would then decide whether to go to court under a provision of Georgia election law that allows losing candidates to challenge results based on "misconduct, fraud or irregularities … sufficient to change or place in doubt the results."
The legal team is "considering all options," Lawrence-Hardy said, including federal court remedies. But the state challenge is the most drastic. And some Democratic legal observers note Abrams would be dependent on statutes that set a high bar for the court to intervene.
Abrams would assert that enough irregularities occurred to raise the possibility that at least 18,000 Georgians either had their ballots thrown out or were not allowed to vote.
Lawrence-Hardy told the AP that Abrams will weigh legal considerations alongside her belief that many of her backers — particularly minority and poorer voters who don’t regularly go to the polls — heeded her call to participate and ran into barriers.
Kemp's team has not minced words about Abrams dragging the race out, with spokesman Ryan Mahoney calling her latest maneuver a "publicity stunt," "beyond desperate," and her refusal to concede a "ridiculous temper tantrum."
Republican Governors Association director Paul Bennecke told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that such a move "will come back to haunt her if she runs for something again." A former Georgia Democratic congressman suggested Wednesday that Abrams move on and think about running for the U.S. Senate in 2020 against Sen. David Perdue (R., Ga.).
Former Georgia secretary of state Cathy Cox (D.) told the AP that Abrams has to meet a heavy burden to prove the election was tainted.
"I would say with pretty great confidence there has probably never been an election … without some irregularity, where some poll worker did not make some mistake," Cox said.
The Abrams campaign claimed to have heard from 25,000 voters who ran into problems casting ballots, but the ones they have made public were able to vote, the Journal-Constitution reported. The campaign "has not produced a list of Georgians who were unable to vote."
It also has said there are still thousands of outstanding provisional and absentee ballots, but Journal-Constitution reporter Greg Bluestein noted those mysterious votes have not materialized as Georgia's 159 counties certify their results.
The @staceyabrams campaign has long insisted there are thousands of provisional and absentee ballots still outstanding, but they have not materialized after all counties have certified their votes. #gapol https://t.co/RQlwlKJ8cY
— Greg Bluestein (@bluestein) November 16, 2018
The latest turn in the contentious race comes after Abrams sued successfully for hundreds of absentee ballots to be counted in Gwinnett County, a Democratic-leaning county in metro Atlanta. They did not create any significant change to the deficit she faces.
The governor's race is the closest in Georgia since 1966. It has drawn national attention throughout because of the historic nature of Abrams' candidacy—she would be the first black female governor in the country—and accusations against Kemp of voter suppression and disenfranchisement, although those charges aren't borne out by the facts.
Prominent Democrats have baldly claimed the race is being stolen from Abrams. Hillary Clinton claimed Abrams would have won a "fair" election, and Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) said Stacey Abrams’ election is being stolen from her, using "what I think are insidious measures to disenfranchise certain groups of people."
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) declared if she doesn't win, Republicans "stole" the election.
"If Stacey Abrams doesn't win in Georgia, they stole it," Brown said Wednesday at the National Action Network. "It's clear. I say that publicly. It's clear."