Democrats sue, call on GOP candidate for Georgia governor to resign

Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams' campaign is calling on Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp to resign

Published October 12, 2018 12:12PM (EDT)

Stacey Abrams; Brian Kemp  (AP/Photo Montage by Salon)
Stacey Abrams; Brian Kemp (AP/Photo Montage by Salon)

Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams' campaign is calling on Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp to resign following a report that his office is using a questionable verification law to suppress the minority vote in his bid to become the Peach State's next governor.

The call from the Abrams campaign comes after an Associated Press report revealed that Georgia has put a hold on 53,000 voter registration applications — nearly 70 percent of them belonging to African Americans — because they failed to clear the state's controversial "exact match" standard.

Under the policy, voter registration applications and their driver's license, social security or state ID records must have identical information. This means that any minor discrepancy, such as a typo, missing hyphen or middle initial could result in a rejection. The program has a long history of affecting minority voters.

"As he has done for years, Brian Kemp is maliciously wielding the power of his office to suppress the vote for political gain and silence the voices of thousands of eligible voters — the majority of them people of color," Abrams spokeswoman Abigail Collazo said in a statement.

Collazo urged Kemp, who is in charge of elections in the state, to step down "so that Georgia voters can have confidence that their Secretary of State competently and impartially oversee this election." Georgia Democrats were rejected when they made a similar demand in August.

Kemp's campaign insists that voters whose applications remain in "pending" status have 26 months to fix any issues before their application is removed, and can still cast a provisional ballot. It also said that since January, election officials have processed over 6.4 million voter registrations and less than one percent maintain in pending status.

"While outside agitators disparage this office and falsely attack us, we have kept our head down and remained focused on ensuring secure, accessible, and fair elections for all voters," Kemp said in a statement. "The fact is that it has never been easier to register to vote and get engaged in the electoral process in Georgia, and we are incredibly proud to report this new record."

Kemp and Abrams are in a dead heat, with the most recent polling and analysis predicting a toss-up on Election Day. Republicans have maintained control of the governorship since Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes finished his term in 2003. The current occupant, Gov. Nathan Deal, is currently wrapping his second term and will leave the office in January. Abrams, who has emerged as a national Democratic star during her primary campaign, is vying to become the first black woman elected governor in any state. 

Kemp has attacked the New Georgia Project, which was established by Abrahams when she was the Georgia House minority in an aim to register over 800,000 young and minority people to vote ahead of the 2014 elections. Less than two months before the 2014 midterm elections, Kemp subpoenaed the records of the organization, alleging that the group has committed voter fraud. In a speech to Republican supporters, he mentioned the defunct community-organizing group ACORN and warned that Democrats were relaying on "minority voters."

"Everybody remembers ACORN right? Well when ACORN was out registering people to vote, they were filling out applications, they were sending stuff in, you don't know who these people are, where they're from, the people that are registered, and the people that are filling those out," Kemp said.

At the time, Abrams said that out of 85,000 registrants, the group was aware of roughly 25 complaints about incomplete forms. According to CNN, no claims of misconduct were ever brought directly against the group and Abrams, her campaign said, is no longer involved in its activities.

A coalition of state civil rights groups, including the New Georgia Project, sued Kemp this week over the blocked registrations.

In a tweet shared Wednesday night, Kemp sought to defend himself against allegations of voter suppression and attempted to put the blame on the New Georgia Project, saying it had "submitted sloppy forms."

"Now, (the Abrams campaign is) faking outrage for political gain," he wrote, insisting that the "53,000 Georgians on our 'pending' list can vote in the Nov. 6th election."

In recent days, Georgia Democrats pumped the gas on their efforts to minimize concerns about being denied access at a polling place by promoting the party's "Voter Protection Hotline" on social media. In February, the Georgia Democratic Party became the first in the nation to hire a full-time internal elections watchdog.

Kemp has also come under intense scrutiny from voting rights advocates for removing more than one million "inactive" voters from Georgia's voting records since becoming the state's top elections official in 2010. In June, the practice was upheld by a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling, which was part of a larger Republican voter suppression effort, activists told News One.

As CNN notes, "the 'exact match' system was used by Kemp's office from 2013 to 2016, during which nearly 35,000 applications were rejected, with minorities disproportionately affected, according to a lawsuit that was settled in 2017. That agreement seemed to put an end to the practice, but the GOP-held legislature quickly embedded it in new legislation."

Abrams and Democratic groups have accused Kemp of "systematically using his office to suppress votes and tilt the election" and argued that the move disproportionately affects minority voters. In an appearance on "The Daily Show," Abrams called Kemp  "a remarkable architect of voter suppression."

By Shira Tarlo

MORE FROM Shira Tarlo

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Abrams Brian Kemp Democrats Georgia Gop Kemp Republicans Stacey Abrams Voter Suppression