On Nov. 6, Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams could turn the nation’s political map inside out and become the first black female governor in U.S. history. The mathematics say its entirely possible. The voter enthusiasm is on her side.
There’s only one problem: She’s running against one of the greatest suppressors of the black vote in history.
Brian Kemp has served as Georgia’s secretary of state since 2010. As Georgia’s chief election officer, he is essentially in charge of voter registration, maintaining voter rolls and tallying votes. Yet, ever since he took office, he has employed every possible tactic available to keep blacks and minorities from voting. He has faced numerous lawsuits, endured condemnation and ignored public outcry as he stiff-armed every attempt from anyone who questions his methods.
Called a “remarkable architect of voter suppression” by Abrams, Kemp is a wizard of targeting black voter registrations and tossing them into the garbage. Georgia’s voting population is only 32 percent black. But a recent Associated Press analysis of 53,000 voter registration on hold with Georgia’s office of the Secretary of State shows that nearly 70 percent of the registrants being denied by Kemp’s office are black.
Brain Kemp knows how to purge voters.
Between 2008 until 2012, the state of Georgia struck 750,000 voters from its rolls, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, an unusually high rate of purging, but still within reason. However, after Kemp got his hands on the state’s voting apparatus, he has purged twice as many voters. Kemp has nixed nearly 1.4 million voters from Georgia’s books for inane reasons such as missing hyphens, rumors that voters have moved and even misspelled street names. And since he became the Republican nominee for governor, he has doubled down.
One of his biggest weapons is his “exact match” policy. If a voter’s registration doesn’t match their DMV records (which often has flawed data), Kemp has mandated that the registration be invalidated. There are reports of voters with hyphenated names being removed from rolls because their registration didn’t have the hyphen. Others have been deleted because their addresses were misspelled.
To be fair, when voters sued the state of Georgia about this policy in 2013, noting that it was arbitrary and not a legal standard, Kemp did stop doing it. Then he simply had the Republican-led state legislature pass a law codifying the exact match system, and continued his purge.
Kemp also uses other methods to get rid of voters. He tosses out the names of people suspected of not being citizens. He purges inactive voters. He kicks out people who didn’t serve on jury duty. He uses every imaginable method, and somehow the voters left out are always black.
But purges aren’t Kemp’s only strategy to suppress the black vote. Georgia officials have closed 214 polling places in 53 counties since 2012, according to the Journal-Constitution. And most of the counties (39 of the 53) where those closures occurred are in counties with significant black populations (more than 25 percent).
Earlier this year Randolph County passed a plan to close two-thirds of its polling locations. Not only is Randolph County mostly black, but the elections were run by Michael Malone, who was a Kemp donor and was curiously on the list of people who Kemp was considering using as a consultant for his campaign, the Washington Post reports.
Aside from being an ardent Trump supporter, Kemp is also vehemently opposed to anyone inspecting his handiwork. After intelligence officials noticed that Russian hackers had breached election software in Georgia, Kemp was the only state election official to rebuff help from federal experts.
Georgia is one of the few states that don’t use paper ballots and there is no way to audit the results of an election in the state. Not only are two-thirds of the state’s voting machines more than 10 years old, but when Marilyn Marks and the Coalition for Good Governance sued after noticing that someone had breached the server where voting machine software, passwords and data were stored; instead of handing over the data, the servers were wiped clean.
Then they wiped the backups clean.
And the fact that all the state’s the servers were located at Kennesaw State University shouldn’t alarm you, even if you disover that just before the 2016 election, Russian
spy ambassador Sergei Kislyak visited Kennesaw State’s tiny campus in a series of events the New York Times said “raised warning flags to many observers.”
Kemp routinely brags about his voter suppression efforts to fellow Republicans. Some allege that Kemp’s tactics come from the “king of voter suppression,” Kris Kobach, once called “the most racist politician in America. And in 2014, Kemp issued a warning his fellow party members:
I just wanted to tell you, real quick, after we get through this runoff, you know the Democrats are working hard, and all these stories about them, you know, registering all these minority voters that are out there and others that are sitting on the sidelines, if they can do that, they can win these elections in November.
So the question remains:
Can Stacey Abrams win?
FiveThirtyEight, the wonky, statistics-based site, notes that Abrams must do three things to secure a victory.
- Win 90 percent of the non-white vote: Which is doable, as most of the state’s nonwhite voters are black.
- Win 25 percent of the white vote: In 2008, Obama won 23 percent of the white vote in Georgia, and the white population has significantly declined since then.
- Make sure non-white voters are 40 percent of the electorate: Well ...
And that’s where Brian Kemp’s voter suppression tactics might work. Even if he can’t suppress all the black votes, he can suppress enough to give himself a tiny margin of victory.
No reputable poll has Kemp ahead of Abrams outside the margin of error. Using the latest data, Real Clear Politics’ poll average has the race as a toss-up. Anyone familiar with Georgia’s changing demographics would say that Abrams winning is possible. If she manages to pull it off, it would be magical. But anyone familiar with Brian Kemp’s long history of voter suppression already understands.
He has a way of making votes disappear.