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Is voter suppression happening in Georgia? Just ask disenfranchised voters: Today's talker

Is voter suppression a thing in Georgia? Talker
Credit: Rick McKee/The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle/PoliticalCartoons.com
Stacey Abrams ghost
Credit: AP
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp gives a thumbs up after casting his ballot while voting with his wife Marty at the Winterville Train Depot in the runoff election on Tuesday, July 24, 2018, in Winterville, Ga.

Georgia's Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams called the state's "exact match" registration verification process — overseen by her Republican opponent and Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp — voter suppression. A coalition of civil rights advocacy groups has sued the state over the practice.

Kemp is playing dirty with democracy

Election Day is one of those few opportunities when each person’s voice counts the same. We abide by the “one person, one vote” principle to ensure a true democracy. We expect every citizen — especially our elected officials — to operate by and uphold the rules. It's not playing out that way in Georgia. 

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp purged upwards of half a million voter registration records in 2016 and 2017. Of that number, 107,000 were targeted simply because they had missed a couple elections or contacted election officials in seven years, not because they had been disqualified. A couple of years ago, when we got wind of this practice, Common Cause filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against Kemp’s office.

What’s more, a sizable majority of voters of color, which Georgia — and other states previously covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act — have been targeted over the past decade with suppressive tactics such as: voter photo ID, attempts to eliminate polling places and felony disenfranchisement laws. Keeping these voters at home, moreover, could give Kemp the edge he needs in a neck-and-neck race against Stacey Abrams, who could potentially become the state’s first black governor. 

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Adding insult to injury, Secretary Kemp has held up 53,000 voter registration records in this election for their failure to produce an “exact match” against records in the system. Analysis of these records reveals that 70 percent come from black would-be voters. But because, say, their registration names contain a hyphen or accent mark, and their DMV files do not (and in some instances, they can’t), their paperwork-facilitating participation in the upcoming election remains in a “pending” folder. 

Again, who benefits from this move? The gubernatorial candidate who also happens to be the state’s election administrator.

Kemp, it’s true, has informed elections officials that these voters should get to cast a regular ballot so long as their registration forms substantially match their IDs. But why the holdup in the first place? A recording obtained by Rolling Stone of Kemp at a recent ticketed campaign event would seem to shed some light. Kemp told the audience that the voter turnout efforts of his opponent, “continues to concern us, especially if everybody uses and exercises their right to vote.”

Politicians must play fair if they run for office, and once in office their foremost duty lies to us, the people. It’s important that we stop these tactics through effective and legal means: reporting, lawsuits, demonstration. And nothing is more effective than showing up at the ballot box. Show up, and keep showing up.

Allegra Chapman is the director of voting and elections at Common Cause. You can follow her on Twitter: @ChapmanAllegra.

What our readers are saying

Reader comments taken from Facebook:

Last time I checked, any information you provide the government must — in fact — be correct and updated, if changed. Falsifying documents in order to vote is a crime.

— Kenneth Spindler

In what kind of democracy does a candidate in an election maintain the authority to void voters' registration? You know that saying about politicians choosing their voters rather than the other way around? This is what that looks like. And it must be stopped if we ever want to, umm ... well, make America great again.

— Tom J. McConnell

How else would it be possible to register someone when the name is Janet Doe on the registration form and Jane Doe on their driver's license or Social Security card. Democrats never make sense with their fake accusations of voter suppression.

— Tom Ponmalayil

People who have not voted in years are crying that they have been removed from the voting lists. This is just another way to make noise about those who are attempting to keep voting fraud out of our system.

— Walt Kay

What others are saying

Michelle Goldberg,  The New York Times: "Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s apparent attempt to rig the Georgia election shows in microcosm how democracy in America is failing. Part of the reason this country is sliding into minority rule is structural — the Senate and the Electoral College both give disproportionate power to white rural voters. But the right is also gaming the system to try to stop changing demographics from changing the country's balance of political power."

Brian Kemp,  Twitter: "Stacey Abrams — and her radical friends — are incredibly dishonest. The 53,000 Georgians on our 'pending' list can vote in the Nov. 6 election. Her dark money voter registration group submitted sloppy forms. Now, they are faking outrage for political gain."

Paul Waldman,  The Washington Post: "It’s also an example of how Republicans, who complain all the time about the stifling hand of big government, use their power to weaponize bureaucracy against people they don’t like. ... If Kemp wins, Republicans around the country will celebrate it as further proof of the efficacy of their vote suppression strategy. And knowing that the Supreme Court is likely to endorse whatever new suppression tactics they come up with, they’ll move even more aggressively to restrict access to the ballot."

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