The right to vote is sacred — and Stacey Abrams fully understands what suffrage means to her supporters, her ancestors, and the civil rights movement. “I promise you tonight, we’re going to make sure every single vote is counted. Every single vote,” the Georgia gubernatorial candidate told a crowd in downtown Atlanta after 1:30 a.m. on Election Night, proudly remaining in the race.
One Georgia voter, Denea, beamed with pride as she talked about what people went through so that she could exercise her right to vote as a 31-year-old African-American woman in the Southern state, casting a ballot for a woman who looked more like her than any who has ever held a governorship in the U.S.. If elected, Abrams will be the nation’s first Black female Governor in history. “I voted for all of my ancestors, for all the ones who didn’t have the right to vote, all the long lines that they stood in, all the fights, all the marches,” Denea told Refinery29. “And I voted for a Democratic woman for governor!”
Abrams, former Georgia House minority leader, spoke powerfully about the historic context of this race, the sacrifices made for democracy, the still unfulfilled promise of equality and justice for too many, and her unwavering commitment to ensuring that all voices are heard, acknowledged, and included not only in this election, but also in the vision she holds for a stronger, brighter Georgia. Who will lead that state remains to be determined, likely to go to a runoff, if no candidate wins a majority vote.
Millions of ballots have been cast for the 44-year-old in the Georgia gubernatorial race — and many are still being counted, including a striking number of provisional paper ballots which were necessary amid problems at polling places and reports of voter suppression on Election Day. Over 30% of the state’s electorate is black. Over 50% of voters are female. And more than any other population bloc, Black women showed up at the polls to vote for Abrams over businessman and current Secretary of State Brian Kemp.
Refinery29 spoke with Abrams supporters outside the polls in metro Atlanta.
“At first, I wasn’t gonna vote and then I thought about it and my vote does actually matter. I wanted to be a part of the change,” 30-year-old Jaleesa told Refinery29. She said she wasn’t a strong Abrams supporter from the start: “I saw a lot of my friends were supporting her, but I didn’t want to just jump on the bandwagon.” But then, she saw an article on Twitter and decided to dig deeper. “I read and I was like, you know what? I like her background, I like her story, so I went and started reading up on her and I was like, I am gonna support her and here I am!” Abrams’ focus on affordable housing, jobs, equal rights, and healthcare piqued her interest. Jaleesa forced herself off the couch (saying “go vote, go vote, go vote”), put on a #Slay baseball cap to cover the face she didn’t have time to makeup, and raced to her precinct to vote before starting work.
Like many voters from underrepresented communities, Candace said she was particularly concerned with voting rights and voter oppression, which was widely reported throughout the state, though not at her precinct. “I believe that my ancestors fought for us to be able to vote, so it’s important to vote,” she said. “Holding her 6-year-old son’s hand, the “we” she used to include the young boy reinforced how this election is not only about the voting population, but also about the next generation. “We voted for Stacey Abrams. We’ll see what happens. We’ll be watching.”
Politics also matters to 30-year-old Wyyante because of the title she cherishes most: mother. “It is important as far as schooling my kids,” she said with her 5-year-old son Isiah on her back. Her 9-year-old daughter didn’t join at the polls this time, but the girl was on her mind while casting her ballot, which included local seats and propositions. ”Only my friends who have kids care about who’s gonna be taking over the school system in our area,” she said. “We have to.”
The fact remains that too many American citizens do not exercise their right to vote, with turnout even lower in midterm elections than presidential years, despite a spike in this election cycle. “Instead of complaining, get out to vote to make a difference. If you don’t come to vote, then you can’t complain about anything,” Shondell told Refinery29, all fired up outside of her polling place in College Park. In addition to Abrams’ platforms aligning with her views, representation matters to the 36- year-old Delta Sky Club chef. “I think she will make a great difference,” she said, “and it’s really good to see different races and genders.”
Representation was top of mind for 35-year-old Jessica as well. “Honestly, I didn’t know who I would vote for, but I decided to go for Stacey Abrams because she is a Black woman. I am all about women empowerment and I am a woman of color,” said the proud graduate of a women’s college who is currently looking for a job in the business or media world, not yet ready to dive into politics. She smiled: “If not me, then her, right?”
Lynn became emotional in thinking about the long, heavy, violent, unfinished history of civil rights and suffrage in the United States of America. The hashtag #IVoted trended across social media, but for Lynn, it was personal. Casting a ballot for Stacey Abrams made her feel proud and empowered. “I voted because my ancestors fought and died for me to have the right to vote,” she said, “and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t take that for granted.”
Lynn HendricksPhoto: Erin Schrode.
That sentiment was echoed by 28-year-old Destiny, who said: “I voted because I feel it is important that we make a difference.” Electing Abrams mattered deeply to her as she is beginning her career, family life, and political involvement. “I feel like it will change the history of Georgia.”
Tamikia, a 40-year-old government employee in uniform, proudly voted for a candidate she sees as a deserving public servant. “I voted so we could get someone in who cared, so we can make a difference for our kids and our future. And our parents,” she said, while waiting for her mother to pick her up at the polling station.
Values alignment is paramount for many voters. “I voted for Stacey because she is for a lot of things I find important,” said Erica, a 33-year-old Google employee who felt so strongly about the final push toward the midterms that she spent the weekend volunteering for Abrams’ campaign. “I didn’t vote because you’re supposed to; I voted because it was a really important election.” She is not alone in that line of thinking, thoughts that converted into action. A new high of 2.1 million people voted early in the state of Georgia and votes continue to roll in with record numbers.
Black women voted decisively for Abrams for a myriad of reasons — her policy positions, a track record of success, what she represents to an increasingly diverse electorate and population. Whether white women and the rest of Georgia voters follow suit remains to be seen, as absentee votes from counties that lean Democrat are still being counted in this historic election. If Kemp does not hold onto his razor-thin .4% lead on the majority vote total needed to win, it would force a runoff election on December 4. Abrams sees another election as a chance to reach an even broader cross-section of Georgians, to expand her base of supporter, to bring more people into the movement. And she knows, every single vote matters.
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