Election in Georgia Clouded by Racial and Voting Controversy

Republican Brian Kemp has made it harder for African Americans to vote and now oversees the very election he is hoping to win.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams speaks with voters in Albany, Georgia, June 3, 2017
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams speaks with voters in Albany, Georgia, June 3, 2017 (Team Abrams)

One of the most closely watched elections on Tuesday is in Georgia, where Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp are competing for the governorship.

Abrams led Democrats in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2011 to 2017 and is the first-ever female African American gubernatorial nominee of a major political party in the United States.

Kemp has been the secretary of state of Georgia since 2010. That puts him in charge of overseeing the very election he is hoping to win.

History

Georgia hasn’t had a Democratic governor since 2003. During the 2002 Republican midterm wave, Democrat Roy Barnes lost reelection, partially due to his support for shrinking the size of the Confederate battle flag on Georgia’s state flag.

Before 2003, Georgia had Democratic governors going back to 1872. Many were Dixiecrats and all were white men. Victory for Abrams would underscore the slow ideological and demographic realignments which have been taking place in the American South since 1964.

Controversies

Due to the historical connection between race and ballot access in the United States (especially in Southern states like Georgia), and Kemp’s position as overseer of this race, voting itself has been the source of many controversies:

  • The Brennan Center for Justice found that Kemp’s office removed 1.5 million voters from the rolls between 2012 and 2016.
  • Following a 2013 Supreme Court ruling overturning parts of the Voting Rights Act, Georgia has closed about 8 percent of polling places across the state, primarily in areas with many poor and minority residents, who tend to vote Democratic.
  • Last year, Kemp’s office removed 534,000 voters from the rolls because they had allegedly not responded to mailed queries from his office and not voted in two general elections. However, independent analysis by the Palast Investigative Fund found that over 340,000 of those voters still lived at their listed addresses.
  • Kemp’s office has used an “exact match” law to delay or suspend over 53,000 voter registrations due to minor discrepancies with official records, such as hyphenation issues and data entry mismatches. About 70 percent of the rejected applications were from African Americans.
  • Such “pending” voters have been ineligible to cast absentee ballots. Voters can still cast in-person ballots if they demonstrate to local election officials that their photo IDs “substantially match” their registration applications. But the final decision is up to the registrar in each county.
  • Kemp has accused Abrams of encouraging illegal aliens to vote. In truth, Abrams simply described undocumented immigrants as being represented by the so-called “blue wave” in this year’s election, not that they could or should vote for Democrats.

Last-minute investigation

At the last minute, Kemp has announced his office is opening an investigation into Georgia’s Democratic Party with regard to a “failed attempt to hack the state’s voter registration system.” It has also asked the FBI to investigate.

The reality is that a voter alerted the Democratic Party’s voter protection hotline about cyber vulnerabilities in the voter registration system, which Kemp’s office maintains. The Democrats contacted a private cybersecurity firm about these vulnerabilities. This firm contacted Kemp’s office, upon which Kemp decided to blame Democrats.

There is no evidence a hack took place, let alone that Democrats were responsible.

Projections

In a sign of how important Georgia’s gubernatorial election is considered to be, both President Donald Trump and his predecessor, Barack Obama, campaigned in the state last weekend.

FiveThirtyEight gives Kemp a two-in-three chance of victory. The polls give him 47 to 54 percent support against 45 to 52 percent for Abrams.

If neither candidate gets more than 50 percent, a runoff would be held on December 4.

Polls are open in Georgia from 7 in the morning to 7 at night and require a valid photo ID.