November 13, 2018; Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Yesterday afternoon, a group of 15 people, most reportedly associated with Black Lives Matter, was arrested in the Georgia state capital for demanding that every absentee and provisional vote be counted in determining the gubernatorial winner in last Tuesday’s midterms.
Among those arrested was State Sen. Nikema Williams (D-Atlanta), who said she was quietly standing in support of the group of around 100 in the public rotunda.
“I was not yelling. I was not chanting,” she said. “I stood peacefully next to my constituents because they wanted their voices to be heard, and now I’m being arrested.”
The arrest, by the way, is expressly prohibited in Georgia, in that legislators “shall be free from arrest during sessions of the General Assembly” except in cases of treason, felony, or breach of the peace.
“I stood with constituents to demand that their voices be heard and countless other Georgians who cast ballots on last Tuesday and thought that their votes were counted and are learning now that they’re not,” Williams said after her release. “I will continue to stand with the citizens of Georgia—and any citizen—to demand that their votes be counted, because that is the bedrock of our democracy.”
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Williams was arrested for obstruction, while the 14 others who were detained were charged with disrupting the General Assembly.
Williams’ senatorial colleagues reacted strongly to the arrest. “When a sitting senator, who is the vice chair of the state Democratic Party, is thrown into a paddy wagon at the state capital, it is a stark reminder that our right to freely assemble is at risk,” said State Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta). Party Chairman DuBose Porter said Williams was arrested “for doing her job where she works.”
“Today, [Williams] was arrested at the Georgia State Capitol while standing up for her constituents’ right to peaceful protest and advocating to count every Georgian’s vote,” Porter said. “We stand with her and with all Georgians whose Constitutional rights are at risk.”
Lauren Groh-Wargo, the campaign manager for Stacey Abrams, thanked Williams for standing against voter suppression. “Today, there were people who came to the Capitol to raise this issue,” Groh-Wargo said. “They were literally only asking to be heard…demanding that this state count every vote.”
Meanwhile, although the secretary of state’s office had planned to certify the vote yesterday, a federal judge ordered that it could not do so before Friday and that it had to “immediately establish and publicize on its website a secure and free-access hotline or website for provisional ballot voters to access to determine whether their provisional ballots were counted and, if not, the reason why.” Other suits are in the process of being brought for the state’s rejection of votes for minor infractions as Stacey Abrams’ campaign, in league with voting rights advocates, attempts to force a run-off against Brian Kemp, the secretary of state and her opponent in the race for governor.
Georgia’s new secretary of state, Robyn Crittenden has said that the lawsuits and protests surrounding the outcome of the election don’t bother her. “That’s the beauty of democracy, where everyone votes and everyone has an opportunity to express themselves,” Crittenden says, declaring that she intends to do the job, which she will only hold until January, with integrity. Crittenden is the first Black woman to serve as a statewide constitutional officer in Georgia.—Ruth McCambridge