Former President Barack Obama spoke at a campaign rally Friday for gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams in Georgia, and insisted on the importance of exercising one's right to vote ― particularly in the face of efforts to suppress it.
"They'll try to disenfranchise people and take away their right to vote," Obama said in his speech at the campaign event just days before the Nov. 6 midterm elections, organized by the Georgia Democratic Party at Morehouse College, a historically black, all-male school in Atlanta. (Abrams graduated from neighboring Spelman, a historically black women's college.)
"Stacey's opponent has already been caught multiple times," the former president added.
Abrams is in a tight and potentially historic race for governor against Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) ― vying to become the country's first black female governor.
The Georgia gubernatorial race has gotten heated around voting rights controversies. Earlier this month, an Associated Press report found that over 53,000 voter applications, nearly 70 percent of which were from black people, were on hold for verification with Kemp's office. Kemp, in his role as secretary of state, oversees elections.
Abrams has accused Kemp of voter suppression. Kemp has called such accusations a "farce" and insisted that people with "pending" registrations could still vote. (Those 53,000 voters can vote on Election Day if they show up to the polls with an accepted form of photo ID ― but they can't vote absentee or by mail until they resolve the discrepancies with their registrations.)
Meanwhile in August, one majority-black Georgia county had to reject a plan to close nearly all of its polling places. Earlier this month, dozens of black senior citizens in rural Georgia were ordered off a bus headed for the polls for early voting after county officials said the event constituted prohibited "political activity." And last week, a federal judge said she would block election officials from throwing out absentee ballots based on signature discrepancies, after one county faced scrutiny for rejecting an unusually high number of mail-in ballots.
Georgia "purged twice as many voters - 1.5 million - between the 2012 and 2016 elections as it did between 2008 and 2012," according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Kemp took office in 2010.
"Georgia, be unafraid," Obama said. "If they try to take away your right to vote, there's only one way to take it back: Vote."
At her rally Friday, Abrams spoke of her own history working on voting rights issues.
"I've had to do this against Georgia's homegrown architect of voter suppression," she said, in an apparent reference to Kemp.
Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who also spoke at Abrams' rally Friday, recalled decades-old voter suppression tactics like literacy tests meant to disenfranchise black voters, saying, "There are forces in America that want to take us back ― but we're not going back."
"I gave enough blood on that bridge in Selma 53 years ago. I almost died, some of my friends were murdered," Lewis added. "I'm not asking any of you to give any blood, I'm just asking you to go and vote like you never voted before."
President Donald Trump plans to headline a rally for Kemp in Macon, Georgia, on Sunday. Earlier this week, Kemp pulled out of the second and final debate he and Abrams were scheduled to have on Sunday in order to join Trump on the campaign trail.
To that, Obama said: "I saw [Abrams'] opponent backed out of that debate. What's he afraid of? He's afraid of Stacey, I guess."
Abrams has garnered a number of high-profile endorsements: Oprah Winfrey, in a rare political endorsement, gave a speech and knocked on doors for Abrams this week. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Jimmy Carter have all endorsed Abrams, along with celebrities Will Ferrell, Tracee Ellis Ross and Uzo Aduba.
Obama has endorsed Abrams along with a slew of other Democratic candidates, including Lucy McBath, running for Congress in Georgia's 6th district, who also spoke at Friday's rally. Earlier Friday, Obama stumped for Democrat Andrew Gillum, who is running for governor in Florida.
"Congressman John Lewis is here. John saw this game being played before," Obama said at Abrams' rally Friday, noting the country had gone through other tough periods in history.
"John Lewis didn't sit back and say, 'I hope some day it'll get better.' ... People marched," Obama added. "And when they won the right to vote, people voted to make a better history."
"You win the right to vote, folks are still trying to take it away ― trying to do it in Georgia, right now, right here in 2018," the former president added. "Don't boo, vote."