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Refusal To Concede An Election Isn't A New Concept In Georgia

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump's failure to acknowledge his election defeat has prompted some memories in Georgia. The state's last big election also featured a candidate who did not concede. Democrat Stacey Abrams ran for governor in 2018. She also said the election was unfair. So we went back to what Abrams said and did. How was her approach similar and how was it different? From member station WABE in Atlanta, Emma Hurt reports.

EMMA HURT, BYLINE: Donald Trump Jr. came to Georgia days after the election for a rally with about 100 supporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Georgia is red. Georgia is red.

HURT: He and other pro-Trump leaders made claims of voter fraud they've yet to prove. The president's son said he'd, quote, "lost all faith in the process."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP JR: But I think the No. 1 thing that Donald Trump can do in this election is fight each and every one of these battles to the death so that we get full transparency in the process.

HURT: Two years earlier, a different campaign held a different kind of Atlanta event. Stacey Abrams had stayed quiet for 10 days after the election while her campaign focused on getting more absentee and provisional ballots counted.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STACEY ABRAMS: I acknowledge that former Secretary of State Brian Kemp will be certified as the victor in the 2018 gubernatorial election.

HURT: Kemp oversaw their election as secretary of state, and Abrams had been loudly critical of his policies. This, she said, was not a concession speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ABRAMS: You see, I'm supposed to say nice things and accept my fate. They will complain that I should not use this moment to recap what was done wrong or to demand a remedy. And I will not concede because the erosion of our democracy is not right.

HURT: At the time, Kemp's spokesman called the nonconcession a, quote, "disgrace to democracy." That spokesman was Ryan Mahoney, who is still a senior strategist for now-Governor Kemp.

RYAN MAHONEY: The numbers were undeniable.

HURT: Abrams lost by about 55,000 votes and never did concede. She accused Kemp of voter suppression, which Mahoney says just isn't true. However, voter suppression does exist, he says, and so, too, does voter fraud.

MAHONEY: Stacey Abrams said that she had questions and she wanted to count the votes, et cetera, et cetera, so that same opportunity and process should be afforded to the president as well.

HURT: The Trump campaign has filed one lawsuit in Georgia, and it was dismissed the next day. State elections officials have said there's no evidence of widespread fraud, but they opted for the recount to try to instill confidence in the results. Kemp declined to address any comparisons of 2020 to 2018. Abrams says the two situations are opposites.

ABRAMS: What we asked for starting on November 6 through November 16 was that every vote cast could be counted. That should always be the mission. What we are hearing now is that they don't want every vote to count.

HURT: There's another big difference between Abrams' refusal to concede and Trump's, says Sara Tindall Ghazal, the former voter protection director for the Georgia Democratic Party. Abrams didn't actually challenge the results of her election, and through a massive federal lawsuit that's still in the courts, is instead seeking to reform the system.

SARA TINDALL GHAZAL: Nobody ever sought to overturn the results of the election. We sought to improve the mechanisms by which elections will be conducted moving forward. And that's the point.

HURT: The politicization of our elections, which have always been nonpartisan, concerns Myrna Perez, the elections and voting rights director at the Brennan Center for Justice.

MYRNA PEREZ: It's going to be like some political script that, you know, you lose, you allege this, and that's where I think it calls upon the voters to be demanding a bit more of our politicians that they be more good faith.

HURT: Make sure they're providing evidence, she says, and proposing a solution to make the system better. So far, she says, the president has offered neither. For NPR News, I'm Emma Hurt in Atlanta.

(SOUNDBITE OF ODDISEE'S "AFTER THOUGHTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.