Stacey Abrams: Voting rights activist and architect of Democratic victories in Georgia
Stacey Abrams (Screen Capture)

Stacey Abrams has become a key figure in the Democratic Party and one of its most effective strategists. After narrowly losing the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race, she doubled her efforts to protect the voting rights of minorities and is widely credited with delivering Georgia to the Democrats in the 2020 presidential race as well as mobilizing the voters who also won them the Senate in January run-offs.

"Voting is power. Voting is your voice. People worked hard to give us that voice. Now it's our turn to show up and continue the fight for a better, brighter future for Georgia," Stacey Abrams said this week, addressing a final message of encouragement to young people called to the polls for a pivotal pair of Senate run-offs on Tuesday that had the whole country on tenterhooks.

Abrams, who served as minority leader in Georgia's House of Representatives from 2011 to 2017, has fought for minority voting rights for years. It was an uphill battle, but it led to hundreds of thousands of new registered voters on the rolls and played a key role in Joe Biden's historic November victory in the Peach State, a longtime Republican bastion in the South.

Born in Madison, Wisconsin, Abrams exhibited a political streak from an early age, raised alongside five brothers and sisters by parents involved in the community. A political science major in college, Abrams cut her teeth in politics at Atlanta's City Hall, working in the youth services department under the city's Democratic mayor, Maynard Jackson. A brilliant student, Abrams would graduate from Yale Law School before becoming assistant district attorney for Atlanta and then minority leader for Georgia's House Democrats in 2011. Meanwhile, under the nom de plume Selena Montgomery, she was writing romantic suspense novels (her ninth published thriller is due out in the spring).

A 'new South'

In 2018, at the age of 44, Abrams was the Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia, a first for an African-American woman.

"It was with that election that Stacey Abrams really made a name for herself on the [national] political scene," Gérard Olivier, a Franco-American researcher at the Institute for Forecasting and Security in Europe (IPSE), told FRANCE 24. "She represents a 'new South', activist and educated, because she isn't just a political personality with folksy charm, she has solid qualifications, notably in terms of law," said Olivier, who specializes in US politics.

>> The 51%: Meet Stacey Abrams, the woman who helped turn Georgia blue

That 2018 vote was a close one, but Republican Brian Kemp won it in the end. Abrams and others would accuse him of using his position as Georgia's secretary of state, who is in charge of overseeing elections, to block thousands of ballots from being counted.

"Fifty thousand forms, mainly for Black voters, were rejected as 'non-compliant'," a member of Democrats Abroad France told France 24 of that Georgia poll. "That poses serious questions about the application of election rules by the Republicans."

According to the Associated Press, Kemp put some 53,000 voter registrations on hold ahead of that vote, nearly 70 percent of them from Black people. Georgia's population is only about 32 percent Black.

After losing the governor's race, Abrams remained a key figure in the party. She was chosen for the high-profile roll of delivering the Democrats' official response to President Donald Trump's 2019 State of the Union address.

The fight for voting rights

Long involved in the fight for Black voting rights, Abrams went on to launch a new organization, Fair Fight Action, to broaden voting access and ensure that every vote cast is counted. While the organization was intended to speak to needs across the country, it was particularly active in Georgia, a state that had voted Republican in presidential elections systematically since 1996 despite having the fourth-largest Black community in the United States, making up nearly a third of the state.

"While the demographic trend is clearly moving in Democrats' favor in the state, the work that organizations like Fair Fight Action undertook was nevertheless important," said Olivier. "Because despite the flourishing of the Black bourgeoisie, African-Americans remain one of the communities that vote the least. That type of organization worked hard to mobilize voters, to guide them through the procedures, to ensure they were duly registered and to facilitate access to polling places, which is often difficult without a car."

"Fair Fight Action is a non-partisan organization. But it is true that Stacey Abrams's activism alongside minorities contributed to her image as a rising star in the Democratic Party," the Democrats Abroad France member said.

Some saw Abrams as a potential running mate for Biden in the 2020 race until Senator Kamala Harris got the nod. Asked in November about her personal ambitions within the Biden administration, Abrams demurred, saying her priority was to get Democratic senators elected in Georgia. Now that Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are headed to Washington, many US observers forecast a bright future for Abrams – either within Biden's administration, heading the Democratic Party or even as Georgia's next governor.