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Democrat Stacey Abrams warned a packed auditorium at the University of Minnesota on Saturday that even the state with the highest voter turnout in the nation is vulnerable to tactics of voter suppression.

"Turnout is not enough, because suppression exists. That's like saying if more people get in the water, there are no sharks," said Abrams, whose 2018 campaign for Georgia governor drew national attention. She narrowly lost to Republican Brian Kemp, who as secretary of state purged hundreds of thousands of people from voter rolls.

Abrams responded to the contest by launching Fair Fight, a multimillion-dollar initiative to promote fair elections and boost turnout across the country. She headlined a DFL-sponsored voting rights panel at the university's Humphrey School of Public Affairs on Saturday, which saw a wide-ranging discussion that touched on the upcoming election, census and even her political future.

In her unsuccessful bid for governor, the former Georgia House minority leader won more votes than any Democrat in the state's history, including former President Barack Obama. The race catapulted her to political stardom, prompting speculation that she could run as vice president in 2020 with the next Democratic nominee.

"If they want a partner, I'll be free to work something in 2020," Abrams said, drawing cheers. Until then, she will be "making sure that we have the stand-up democracy that we need."

Alongside Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, she urged vigilance in spotting efforts to undermine the April census and November election.

The stakes are high for communities across the country, said Abrams, who also launched the nonprofit Fair Count to ensure every Georgian is tallied in the census. Communities that are undercounted in the census will receive less federal money and could lose representation in Congress.

Abrams stressed the importance of engaging communities of color and boosting their turnout. She told the audience to push back on shady tactics that discourage civic participation.

Minnesota topped the nation in voter turnout in both 2016 and 2018, a bragging right Simon said residents should be proud of. But, he warned, there are groups that would like to see those numbers brought down.

"This is not a time, going into 2020, for us to be anything but restless," he said, adding that the state should restore voting rights for felons once they are out of jail or prison and implement automatic voter registration and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds.

In a statement, Minnesota GOP Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan drew parallels between the impeachment proceedings in Washington and the DFL's choice of Abrams.

"It has been clear they are not willing to accept the election results which made Donald Trump our 45th president. So it is no surprise the Minnesota DFL would bring in Stacey Abrams, who refuses to concede her failed gubernatorial race," Carnahan said.

Former Minnesota Secretary of State Joan Growe had a front-row seat to Abrams' Saturday speech. She said the 2018 election race in Georgia, which was marred by charges of voter suppression, should remind Minnesotans to not be complacent.

"It reminds Minnesotans in many ways how fortunate they are, how careful they have to be, because we could lose our structure with the wrong elected officials, with different policies," Growe said.

Ryan Faircloth • 612-673-4234