'All In' Documentary Examines Voter Suppression
Stacey Abrams drives this look at voting history and activism
“All In: The Fight For Democracy” is a new documentary that looks at the history of voter suppression in the U.S. and current activism to fight against it.
“All In: The Fight for Democracy” opens with Stacey’s Abrams’ 2018 bid to become Georgia’s governor.
In a quick opening montage the film lays out the drama that unfolded. Democrat Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp were in a hotly contested race with Kemp winning by the narrowest of margins.
The montage ends with Abrams non-concession speech in which she says: “I acknowledge that former Secretary of State Brian Kemp will be certified as the victor in the 2018 gubernatorial election. But to watch an elected official who claims to represent the people in the state to baldly pin his hopes for election on the suppression of the people’s democratic right to vote has been truly appalling. So let’s be clear. This is not a speech of concession because concession means to acknowledge that an action is right, true or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede that.”
The film then uses Abrams (who is the first Black woman in U.S. history to have won the gubernatorial nomination of either major party) as the personal lens through which to start an examination of voter suppression.
After the gubernatorial election Abrams launched Fair Fight, which is described on the website as driven “to ensure every American has a voice in our election system through programs such as Fair Fight 2020, an initiative to fund and train voter protection teams in 20 battleground states.”
“All In,” directed by Lisa Cortes and Liz Garbus with Abrams serving as one of the producers, takes us through history to celebrate gains but also alerts us to how those in power continually try to put up barriers that threaten our basic rights as citizens.
The film looks to the Constitution to remind us that although it aspired to high ideals it did neglect to grant voting rights to a large percentage of the population. In 1869, the 15th Amendment granted Black men the right to vote and formerly enslaved African Americans exercised their new rights by not only voting but seeking political office. In less than a decade about 2,000 Black men had won local, state, and federal offices in the former Confederate states.
But reporter Ari Berman notes in the film, “The greatest moments of progress are followed by the most intense periods of retrenchment, that's what happened after the Civil War, reconstruction was a high point for voting rights, and it was followed by nearly 100 years of Jim Crow.”
The film points to how following Barack Obama’s election as the first Black U.S. president, the there was a rise of voter ID, voter purging, poll closures, and other tactics designed to make voting more difficult especially in predominantly Black communities.
Emory College professor Carol Anderson walks us through some history about “How do you say we don't want black folks to vote without writing a law saying we don't want black folks to vote? Mississippi said, ‘OK, we've got this, we have figured out how to get around the 15th Amendment while systematically denying the vote to African-Americans,’ and that was the Mississippi Plan of 1890. What Mississippi came up with was we are going to use the societally imposed conditions on African-Americans and make those conditions the access to the ballot box. There were literacy tests, poll taxes, grandfather clauses, all white primaries, property costs, if this one doesn't get you, this one will, if this one doesn't get you, this one will … It is a way to neutralize the 15th Amendment … In Mississippi, during reconstruction, African-American voter registration was almost 67%. By the time we have fought the Nazis and we are moving into the Cold War where the U.S. is really holding up as the leader of the free world, only 3% of age-eligible African-Americans were registered to vote in the South.”
Then there were the gains of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark piece of federal legislation in the United States that prohibits racial discrimination in voting. But a 2013 Supreme Court decision (Shelby County v. Holder) invalidated parts of the Voting Rights Act and that has led to what the film calls “Jim Crow 2.0.”
That description has drawn criticism from some who argue that Obama’s presidential win is proof that we no longer need all the protections and provisions of the Voting Rights Act. But the film states its case that we do still need them, that voters — especially Black, poor, elderly, Latino, and Native American — are impacted the most by such things as voter ID, voting purges, polls closing and other tactics.
The film shows how each of these tactics when presented individually can seem reasonable. It’s reasonable to ask for a voter to prove who they are but it’s not reasonable to say that a state-issued photo ID to carry a concealed weapon is acceptable proof to vote in Texas but a state-issued photo student ID is not. Purging the voting rolls of people who have died seems reasonable but purging people who have not voted in several elections and not informing them that they have been purged is not, especially when a large number of those purged in some states were purged in error. Additionally, after the Shelby decision, more than 1,600 precincts closed in states that were once covered by the Voting Rights Act.
Abrams states in the film: “The Shelby decision, what it did was give carte blanche to states like Georgia to restore every racist trope they had. Had I run for governor in 2012, it would have empirically been an easier election. By the time I was running for governor, I had had eight years of watching the secretary of state, Brian Kemp, build a national reputation for voter suppression. We anticipated that voter suppression was part of Brian Kemp's behavior. What we couldn't anticipate was that I was going to be in a fight with the very person who controlled the system.”
The filmmakers play one of Kemp’s campaign ads in which the candidate boasts: “I got a big truck just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take them home myself. Yeah, I just said that.”
As with another recent documentary “#Unfit,” “All In” may only preach to the converted. “All In” vigorously and passionately presents its case and assembles an article group of people to argue its points. It connects the dots through history, shines a light on how voter suppression can impact elections, and urges activism.