ATLANTA — Several Democratic presidential hopefuls spent much of Thursday in Atlanta following Wednesday’s debate. They talked a lot about voter suppression – an issue that Georgia Republicans say Democrats have overblown.
"Voter suppression" became a catch phrase in last year’s election for governor after the secretary of state wiped hundreds of thousands of names from the voter rolls and then got elected governor. Republicans said that only told part of the story.
"I think we’re going to have to overcome voter suppression in every way possible," declared US Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), a presidential hopeful during a visit Thursday to Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker and Andrew Yang visited Ebenezer Thursday, and found a roomful of volunteers trying to reach potential voters to make sure they’re registered in Georgia. They were wearing "Fair Fight" shirts, a group founded by Stacey Abrams.
And when Abrams entered the room, it erupted into applause. Abrams was the candidate who made voter suppression an issue when she ran and barely lost the race for governor last year.
"Stacey would be the governor right now were it not for this issue," said former Vice President Joe Biden, also in Atlanta, repeating a common talking point among Democrats.
Yet, Republicans said Georgians voted in record numbers in last year’s election – including more voters of color than the 2016 election, when Barack Obama was on the ballot.
Earlier this year, the state registered 300,000 new voters in ten months—while the state also sought to move off the rolls 313,000 voters described as inactive. Many of them are believed to have relocated or died.
"It's reasonable to try and confirm and update your voter files periodically," Yang told 11Alive. "But you want to do it in a way that emphasizes citizens' ability to vote."
Ebenezer's pastor, Raphael Warnock, said purging voters is unnecessary.
"This is a solution in search of a problem. Voter fraud through voter identification is almost nonexistent. We should be trying to find ways to find more people to show up at the polls," Warnock said.
And Democrats said the issue will resonate again this year.
"I think it’s actually a really exciting opportunity to galvanize people around the simple idea that people should have the right to vote," Klobuchar said.
Thursday, the office of Georgia’s Republican secretary of state urged voters not to share personal information with people calling from voter registration phone banks – and specifically cited the group backed by Abrams calling from Ebenezer.
The secretary of state urged voters to check their voter status themselves online at the secretary of state's website.
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