The Georgia gubernatorial race is fast approaching and the ballot has drawn some dueling contenders. Georgia has been a topic of recent discussion, as efforts to increase Democratic turnout and shift the state into battleground territory appear to be making some leeway. Stacey Abrams, the former House Minority leader, is the prominent democratic candidate; she stands to become the first Democratic governor since Roy Barnes (R) was elected in 1998. On the other side of the aisle are a slew of Republican candidates, but one stands out in clear opposition to Abrams, especially when you examine their political history. Although she is known for working with Republicans to get bills passed in the house, Abrams has butted heads with one prominent Georgia republican: Secretary of State Brian Kemp.
The two clashed in 2014 over claims of voter suppression. Abrams founded The New Georgia Project, an organization with the goal of registering over 100,000 Georgia voters--minorities, women, and young people. The New Georgia project was making significant progress in voter registration, but Kemp’s office subpoenaed the group on suspension of registering fraudulent voter applications. The investigation revealed 51 fraudulent or suspect forms out the 85,000 investigated. Later that year, The New Georgia Project filed a lawsuit against Kemp on the accusation that his office had not processed over 40,000 applications from The New Georgia Project. The New Georgia Project’s claim of voter suppression stems from the fact that, statistically, the majority of those applicants would be Democrats, especially given the that the allegedly affected counties, Fulton, DeKalb, Chatham, Muscogee, and Clayton County, have all been overwhelmingly blue in recent presidential elections. The case against Kemp’s office was dismissed, but that is not the only lawsuit concerning voter suppression that has been filed against the Secretary.
Kemp was hit with three separate lawsuits concerning voter issues in 2016. The first was filed by Common Cause, a government watchdog group, and the Georgia NAACP under the assertion that Georgia use of “confirmation of address” notices were in violation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). These notices are sent to voters who have not cast a ballot in three years and, if they do not respond, they are kicked off the voter rolls. The second lawsuit was filed by Project Vote, a nonpartisan voting rights group, in response to Kemp’s refusal to release voter registration records, specifically those relating to rejected applicants, which they assert is in violation of the NVRA. The third lawsuit brought against Kemp accused him of blocking minority vote via the state’s requirement for “strict matching” on voter information. These mismatches in information, which can be as small as misplacement of apostrophe, can cause individual’s applications to be rejected.
The groups who brought this third suit, including the Georgia NAACP and the Georgia Coalition for the People's’ Agenda, claim this rule disproportionately affects minority voters, with 76.3% of the 34,874 denied applicants identifying as minorities. Georgia temporarily halted the requirements while it tried to work towards a settlement. Additionally, the legal action against Kemp is not a new phenomenon. Karen Handel, the previous Secretary of State, was also bombarded with accusations of voter suppression during her time in office.
These lawsuits against Kemp affect Abrams and the Democratic party in a massive way. It is a corner-stone in democratic political strategy to “get out the vote” and Georgia is a prime example of that idea in practice. Georgia politicians on both sides of the aisle have asserted that Georgia elections are becoming a matter of who shows up to cast a ballot. However, if these allegations of governmental voter suppression are accurate, it could make the Democrats’ battle even more daunting than previously believed. A “get out the vote” strategy only works if registration is met with a swift and fair examination and decision. If Stacy Abrams’ widespread registration efforts are blocked by Kemp and his administration, her chances of winning the governorship become a quickly-receding dream.
- Ava Vecellio