Photo: Michael Harriot (The Root/GMG)

ATLANTA—When members of Congress heard stories about Georgia’s historic vote-stealing, the details sounded so absurdly evil, apparently an entire congressional subcommittee said, “I’ve got to see this for myself!”

Chaired by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the Committee on House Administration is, among other things, tasked with the administration, oversight and legislation involving federal elections. Elections subcommittee chairwoman Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) took a delegation to Atlanta on Tuesday to investigate charges of voter suppression in the November 2018 midterm elections. What they found was a stack of interwoven intentional efforts by Georgia’s former secretary of state (now governor) Brian Kemp to disenfranchise black voters.

“As a longtime advocate for voting rights, I am deeply concerned about the impact on our democracy if action is not taken immediately to support voting rights for access to all citizens,” said former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who testified before the committee.

Abrams, who lost the election by 1.3 percent of the vote, explained that there was a massive increase in voter registration and turnout for the 2018 elections. But Abrams revealed the systemic problems in the election by outlining a disturbing list of details. She testified:

Voters, many of whom were first-time voters, experienced numerous issues with being located on the voting rolls receiving and returning absentee ballots and were given a disturbing number of provisional ballots, rather than being allowed to vote unhindered.

In some areas, the election officials refused to provide provisional ballots, citing a shortage of paper in counties polling locations [which] ran out of provisional ballots and backup paper ballots. Frustrated voters received inaccurate information regarding their rights, and thousands of voters were forced to vote using provisional ballots due to long lines. An untold number simply gave up, unable to bear the financial cost of waiting in line, because Georgia does not guarantee paid time off to vote.

Across the state, voters faced obstacles that shook their confidence in the electoral process, leading to more than 50,000 calls to a local voter protection hotline in a 10-day period immediately following the election. From issues with registration, to ballot access, to the counting of votes, Georgians faced systemic breakdown in its electoral process.

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During Abrams’ testimony, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) specifically asked her about The Root’s report on the historic undervote in Georgia where 127,000 votes seemed to disappear into thin air.

“We know that, for example, in the 2018 elections ... there was a statistically significant dropoff that specifically affected African Americans,” said Abrams. “The reasons for that could be numerous. The challenges to that ... is that there is no way to find out the answer because Georgia has machines that do not provide an audit trail.”

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Abrams noted that, later that day, the state legislature was scheduled to consider a proposal for new voting machines to replace what she called “Georgia’s outdated” voting machines. However, Abrams noted that the machines backed by Georgia’s Republican legislators would be provided by a company closely associated with Brian Kemp and the equipment still would not provide an auditable paper trail preferred by most fair-election advocates, who unanimously agree that machines that use hand-marked, paper ballots are the most effective tool for secure elections

Also testifying before the congressional panel was Sean J. Young, the legal director for Georgia ACLU; Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter and Gilda Daniels, director of litigation for the Advancement Project. Each speaker bore witness to the voter-suppression efforts in last November’s elections.

But it was Georgia voter Stacy Hopkins who brought down the house. Hopkins explained how she battled the state’s efforts to suppress her vote because, as she said, “No one is ever coming to take something that was so hard fought for by me or anyone else in Georgia.”

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Hopkins testified how she was threatened with disenfranchisement after she moved within her voting district. By law, all that she was required to do was notify the U.S. Post Office of her address change. She recounted to the panel that her voter registrations and the registrations for three of her adult children were part of the 1.4 million Georgia voters targeted by Kemp.

“We were to be classified as inactive voters and designated to be purged off of the voting rolls using a method known as the postcard trick,” Hopkins said, holding the innocent-looking mail notification up for the audience to see. “I can’t really explain the range of emotions I felt when I saw this notice. I can only describe it as an abbreviated version of the seven stages of grief. Except the one thing I would never do is accept this.

“There is a fundamental question involving my case that cannot be answered,” Hopkins continued. “What list was I on?”

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Explaining that she and her children had all voted in the election prior to receiving the card, Hopkins said she couldn’t have been deemed an inactive voter. She was not a new registrant, so Kemp couldn’t have used the flawed Crosscheck matching system to purge her registration. Yet, she still hasn’t heard an explanation for why she, and many more in her majority black community, received the notice in the mail.

“So I still ask the question: What list were we on? To date, no one on the state or county level can answer us or has even attempted to do so. What was done was done on the orders of the secretary of state, now governor, Brian Kemp [and] my county election board, headed by director Richard Baron, by utilizing a selective list of selected voters to receive the mailers. But we still don’t know the source.”

Then, on the eve of the election, Hopkins said she was suddenly contacted and offered a settlement, which she only accepted because she was concerned that she wouldn’t be allowed to vote.

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Lawmakers at the packed hearing addressed the Supreme Court’s Shelby v. Holder decision that dismantled a key segment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Congress members said this was part of their efforts to rewrite Section 5 of the law, ensuring federal oversight to counties with a record of voter suppression.

Civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) summed up the hearing by saying what everyone in the packed inquiry already knew:

“There are forces in our region trying to take us back to another time and another period,” Lewis said. “And you are bearing witness. But we must not go back.”