Reprinted with permission from Shareblue.
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is currently running as the GOP nominee for governor, is trying to illegally prevent minority voters from exercising their right to vote in an underhanded effort to stop his Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams from becoming the state’s first black woman governor.
Kemp, a white man, is now being sued by six civil rights organizations including the Georgia chapter of the NAACP, Asian-Americans Advancing Justice, and the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials. He is accused of violating the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act, and the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
Kemp is named as the defendant in the lawsuit in his capacity as secretary of state, a position that puts him in charge of overseeing elections. As the Republican nominee for governor, this poses a blatant conflict of interest that has led some, including former Georgia Senator Max Cleland, to call for Kemp to step down from his current role for the duration of the campaign.
The lawsuit stems from Kemp’s use of the state’s “exact match” law to place tens of thousands of Georgia voters on a “pending” list even for very minor mistakes on voter registration forms. According to the Campaign Legal Center, the draconian measure “places tens of thousands of voter registration applications in suspense for errors as small as a misplaced hyphen, dash, or space.”
As the Campaign Legal Center notes, many of these errors are not the fault of the registrant and are entirely unrelated to their eligibility to vote.
Under Kemp’s supervision, the law has been enforced in such a way that it impacts minority voters at a far greater rate than white voters.
According to a preliminary review by civil rights groups, more than 80 percent of the voters flagged by Kemp’s office are black, Latino, or Asian-American. Less than 10 percent placed on the “pending” list are white, even as more than 60 percent of Georgians are white.
As the lawsuit makes clear, “this protocol will continue to have a discriminatory impact on African-American, Latino and Asian-American applicants and will continue to impose severe burdens on voting-eligible Georgians’ fundamental right to vote that are not justified by any rational or compelling state interest.”
Kemp’s actions have caused confusion about if and how those “pending” voters will be able to vote.
“The Secretary of State’s Office has confirmed that if your voter registration application is deemed ‘pending’ because of the exact match law, you can still cast a regular ballot IF you provide photo identification at the polls which substantially reflects the name you used on your voter registration form,” said Sean J. Young, Legal Director of the ACLU of Georgia.
But the Campaign Legal Center, in its statement about the lawsuit, raises questions about mail-in ballots.
Given recent news reports, it is important to clarify that voters on this ‘pending’ list for ‘exact match’ issues are entitled to vote a regular ballot in person at the polls if they show Georgia voter photo ID. It is possible, however, that they will not be able to vote by mail or may have their vote by mail ballots rejected because Georgia absentee ballots do not require photo ID.
Despite the legitimate concerns raised, Kemp’s office callously dismissed the lawsuit as a bogus political stunt.
The response is unsurprising given Kemp’s history of racial discrimination and voter suppression efforts.
Earlier this year, a consultant handpicked by Kemp went to Randolph County, a majority-black county in southwest Georgia, and tried to convince county officials to close 7 of 9 polling locations. National outrage and efforts by groups like the ACLU prevented the plan from coming to fruition.
In 2013, Kemp celebrated the Supreme Court decision partially overturning the Voting Rights Act by letting localities know they had free reign to shut down polling locations.
With Kemp’s encouragement, 214 polling places have been eliminated in the state of Georgia, “disproportionately in rural, poorer, and blacker counties,” according to an analysis by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Between 2013 and 2015, Kemp attempted to use a similar “exact match” scheme to disenfranchise minority voters. He managed to cancel nearly 35,000 voter registration applications, of which 76 percent were minority voters, according to a lawsuit filed at the time. Kemp eventually relented in his efforts, but clearly is ready to try again.
Voting is one of, if not the fundamental right in American democracy. Civil rights heroes like Rep. John Lewis fought and bled for the rights of all Americans, including black Americans, to have a say in who represents citizens at all levels of government.
Barely more than half a century after Lewis and other activists marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to fight for voting rights, Republicans like Kemp are using the levers of government to try to take that right away from thousands of citizens.
The Georgia Democratic Party has a voter protection hotline that anyone can call with questions about voting, if they see voter suppression efforts, or if they experience efforts to prevent them from voting: 1-888-730-5816.
(Full disclosure: The author’s spouse is the director of voter protection for the Democratic National Committee.)