1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

PolitiFact Florida Did voter suppression keep Andrew Gillum, Stacey Abrams out of office?

There’s more to the story of why these Democrats lost both races.
Andrew Gillum, left, ran for Florida governor. Stacey Abrams, right, ran for Georgia governor. Did voter supression have anything to do with their losses?
Published May 20

In a speech to the NAACP, Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris called for changing election laws to “fight back against those Republicans who suppress our constitutional right to vote.”

Harris, a U.S. senator from California, pointed to the outcome of two close races for governor in the South.

“Let’s say this loud and clear — without voter suppression, Stacey Abrams would be the governor of Georgia, Andrew Gillum is the governor of Florida,” Harris told the NAACP in Detroit on May 5.

It isn’t possible to prove if any election law or policy in either state cost the Democrats their elections, so we aren’t rating the statement by Harris on the Truth-O-Meter. However, our review found there’s more to the story of why these Democrats lost both races.

Georgia voter purge

The Georgia and Florida races featured Democratic African-American rising stars who narrowly lost to white Republican men.

Former congressman Ron DeSantis beat Gillum by slightly less than half a percentage point, or about 32,000 votes. Republican secretary of state Brian Kemp beat Abrams, former state House Democratic leader, by 1.4 percent, or about 55,000 votes.

The Harris campaign relied on a report by the liberal Center for American Progress that said voter suppression and election problems potentially kept millions of residents from voting including some in Georgia and Florida. A Vox article covers similar ground about Georgia.

The main piece of evidence relates to voter registration. Georgia removed about 1.4 million voters from the rolls between 2012 and 2018. Many died, moved away or lost their right to vote because they committed felonies — all routine reasons for removing voters in any state.

But many other residents were removed because they skipped previous elections and had no contact with the election officials.

Although that removal policy started in the 1990s under Democratic leadership, the numbers spiked in 2017 when the state purged about 500,000 voters in one night. By the end of 2017, about 670,000 people, or about 10 percent of voters, were removed from the rolls. Voting rights advocates raised alarm about the massive purge while Kemp defended the responsibility of election officials to maintain voter rolls.

The state also flagged 53,000 registrations as part of a 2017 law that requires exact matches for a person based on state and Social Security records. The Associated Press found that the majority of those flagged voters were African-American. Mismatches occurred over differences as small as a missing hyphen.

Kemp argued that the process wasn’t discriminatory, because pending applicants could still vote if they could produce a photo ID at the polls.

We can’t know how many eligible voters would have shown up and cast ballots for Abrams if they were not removed or were confused by the exact match law.

But the focus on voter purges omits that voter registration surged under Kemp amid automatic registration, outpacing population growth.

Skeptics of claims about voter suppression point out that Georgia had record turnout. FiveThirtyEight, a website that analyzes election statistics, found that an estimated 55% of eligible voters exercised their right to vote, about 21 points higher than the state’s 1982-2014 midterm average.

Record turnout shows more voters were interested in the election, said Barry Burden, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor. It isn’t proof about whether voter suppression occurred.

Democrats raised questions about whether Kemp had a conflict of interest by overseeing elections while he ran for office. Kemp drew more scrutiny when days before the election he accused the Georgia Democratic Party of hacking into the state election system without evidence.

The report cited by the Harris campaign makes a less persuasive case about Florida. It mentions that ballots that were rejected in Georgia and Florida because voter signatures on ballots didn’t match those on file. But we found no evidence that rejected ballots swayed the outcome of the election.

In Florida, 83,000 ballots were deemed invalid, because they were either left blank, the voter chose more than one candidate, among other issues. We can’t know how many intended to vote for Gillum.

Richard Hasen, an election law expert at University of California, Irvine, has said Democrats should cool it with rhetoric that the Georgia race was “stolen.”

“I have seen no good evidence that the suppressive effects of strict voting and registration laws affected the outcome of the governor’s races in Georgia and Florida,” he told PolitiFact. “It would be one thing to claim, as some have, that these laws are aimed to suppress the vote and likely suppressed some votes. It is quite another to claim that there is good proof they affected the outcome.”

Factors in victories

By blaming the Democrats’ losses on voter suppression, Harris ignores factors that helped the Republicans win.

Abrams and Gillum ran in states where Republicans have dominated statewide races for decades. Kemp and DeSantis had the backing of President Donald Trump, who won both states in 2016.

Gillum ran as a liberal who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All health care plan, said Trump should be impeached, and wanted to replace U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Republicans frequently attacked Gillum, then the mayor of Tallahassee, for his ties to an FBI investigation related to development deals. Gillum was never charged but this year agreed to a $5,000 fine by the state ethics commission.

Abrams also ran on a liberal platform, calling for more gun control, expanding health care and decriminalizing certain drug offenses. Her messages appealed to minorities and infrequent voters, but Kemp, who boasted that he could “round up criminal illegals” in his pickup truck, won more conservative parts of the state.

“Stacey Abrams was going to see how far she could move the needle in the Democratic direction,” said Andra Gillespie, an expert on African-American politics at Emory University. “She succeeded — the fact that the race was as close as it was showed Democrats can be competitive in Georgia.”

Edited for print.


  1. Richard Swearingen, Florida's Commissioner of the Department of Law Enforcement, testifies before state lawmakers on Monday. Florida Channel
    But law enforcement officials are getting behind a “threat assessment system.”
  2. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, urges the Florida Board of Education to hold schools accountable for teaching the Holocaust and African-American history, as required by lawmakers in 1994. The board was considering a rule on the matter at its Sept. 20, 2019, meeting in Jacksonville. The Florida Channel
    School districts will have to report how they are providing the instruction required in Florida law.
  3. The Mar-a-Lago Resort in Palm Beach. JOE RAEDLE  |  Getty Images
    It wasn’t immediately clear how much Mar-a-Lago would charge to host the Marine Corps Birthday Ball — or even if it might do so for free.
  4. In this March 24, 2018, file photo, crowds of people participate in the March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control in San Francisco. JOSH EDELSON  |  AP
    ‘Guns are always a volatile topic in the halls of the legislature,’ one Republican said.
  5. Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning says Fortify Florida, the new state-sponsored app that allows students to report potential threats, is "disrupting the education day" because the callers are anonymous, many of the tips are vague and there's no opportunity to get more information from tipsters. "I have an obligation to provide kids with a great education," Browning said. "I cannot do it with this tool, because kids are hiding behind Fortify Florida." JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |
    Vague and anonymous tips often waste law enforcement’s time and disrupt the school day, says Kurt Browning, president of Florida’s superintendents association.
  6. Tonight's LGBTQ Presidential Forum is hosted by Angelica Ross of FX's Pose. Twitter
    A live stream of the event and what to watch for as 10 candidates meet on stage in Iowa.
  7. In this April 11, 2018, file photo, a high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus in Cambridge, Mass.  [AP Photo | Steven Senne] STEVEN SENNE  |  AP
    "The department does not appear to have the authority to do anything.”
  8. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos listens to a speaker share an opinion about a city matter during a city council meeting at Clearwater City Hall in Clearwater, Fla. on Thursday, April 20, 2017.  On Thursday, the Clearwater City Council rejected the mayor's resolution urging lawmakers to ban assault weapons.  [Times files] TIMES FILES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    However, the city did pass a resolution calling for more modest gun control measures.
  9. Maurice A. Ferré at his Miami home earlier this year. JOSE A. IGLESIAS  |  Miami Herald
    He served as mayor for 12 years and set the stage for Miami to become an international city.
  10. Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, during a Feb. 7, 2019, meeting of the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee. [The Florida Channel]
    ‘One test should not determine the rest of your life,’ Rep. Susan Valdes says.