Nikema Williams is a Georgia state Senator who was arrested Tuesday at a rally at the state capitol calling for every vote in the governor’s race to be counted. Williams, who represents part of Atlanta, was taken into custody after police ordered demonstrators to disperse.
“I stood peacefully next to my constituents because they wanted their voices to be heard, and now I’m being arrested,” Williams told reporters as police zip-tied her hands behind her back. “And now I’m being arrested.”
“Let her go!” protesters shouted as police led Williams and others out of the rotunda.
“When a sitting senator, who is the vice chair of the state Democratic Party, is thrown into a paddy wagon at the state capitol, it is a stark reminder that our right to freely assemble is at risk,” fellow state Sen. Nan Orrock told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Williams Charged With Obstruction, 14 Others Arrested
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Williams was formally charged with obstruction. Police charged 14 other protesters with disrupting the General Assembly. The protest was organized by a local Black Lives Matter group demanding that all absentee and provisional ballots be counted in the governor’s race.
Capitol police said they shut down the protest because of rules banning chanting while lawmakers are in sessions.
Democratic state Rep. Park Cannon called the arrests a “travesty.”
“It’s funny because one in 18 Georgians is under correctional control in the state of Georgia,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We see this as indicative of the wrong trends in Georgia as it relates to fair elections and people being able to feel safe in their communities.”
State Democratic Party Chairman DuBose Porter criticized the police for arresting Williams 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. “
2. Protesters Demand Every Vote Be Counted
The protesters attempted to put pressure on state officials to count every vote in the governor’s race, in which Kemp has declared himself the winner, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Democrat Stacey Abrams’ campaign praised the demonstration and Williams.
“They were literally only asking to be heard. Demanding that this state count every vote,” Abrams campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I applaud her bravery and we stand with her and Georgia voters.”
Kemp leads Abrams by just half a percent, or roughly 50,000 votes. He is currently at 50.3 percent of the vote total. If he goes below 50 percent, a run-off election will automatically be triggered. If Abrams makes up 19,000 votes, an automatic recount would be triggered.
Republicans are calling for the count to end, arguing that there are not enough votes left to trigger a recount.
“I, for one, believe this election is over,” House Speaker David Ralston told WSB-TV. “Frankly, it’s time for the rhetoric to be ratcheted down and for Georgia to move forward. And you know, I’ve lost elections, and it’s tough to accept, but sometimes we have to.”
3. Federal Judge Orders Review of Thousands of Provisional Ballots
The protest took place one day after Federal District Court Judge Amy Totenberg ordered a delay of the certification of the election results from Wednesday to Friday over concerns about the handling of the state’s voter registration system and provisional ballots, The New York Times reported.
“Repeated inaccuracies were identified in the voter registration system that caused qualified voters likely to lose their vote or to be channeled at best into the provisional voting process because their registration records did not appear or had been purged from the data system,” Judge Totenberg wrote, adding that there was “evidence that certain counties and precincts stintingly provided provisional ballots to voters despite the volume of individuals facing registration issues at the polls.”
Along with delaying the certification, Totenberg ordered the secretary of state’s office to create a hotline so people who voted via provisional ballots can “determine whether their provisional ballots were counted and if not, the reason why.”
4. Stacey Abrams & Brian Kemp Exchange Fire
With lawsuit flying in the race, the rhetoric grew more heated after Kemp declared himself the winner. Kemp campaign spokesman Ryan Mahoney said in a statement in response to Totenberg’s ruling that Abrams “lost, and her concession is long overdue,” The New York Times reported.
“It’s incredibly shameful that liberal lawyers are doubling down on lawsuits desperately trying to create more votes for Stacey Abrams,” he said. “They don’t want to win this election. They are trying to steal it.”
Abrams’ campaign responded by placing the blame for the state’s voting issues on Kemp, who was Georgia’s secretary of state until he stepped down last week.
“Given the confusion sowed by the Secretary of State’s office last week and the number of voters who experienced irregularities regarding their registration status, these victories were necessary steps in the fight to count every eligible vote in Georgia,” Groh-Wargo said in a statement.
She went on to praise Common Cause, the group that brought the lawsuit.
“We remain grateful to groups like Common Cause who know this is about more than just one campaign — it is about committing to a fairer, more democratic system,” she said.
5. Nikema Williams is a Former Planned Parenthood Official
Williams won her election in the State Senate District 39 last year after state Sen. Vincent Ford resigned to run for mayor of Atlanta. According to her official bio, she is the First Vice Chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia and was a member of the Democratic National Committee. She was also a delegate for Georgia at the 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions.
Prior to becoming a lawmaker, Williams was the Vice President of Public Policy for Planned Parenthood Southeast. She was also the Vice President of Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates, the group’s political lobbying arm.