Brian Kemp, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Georgia who previously made a splash for pointing a gun at a teenager in a campaign ad, is running against Democratic former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, who would be the first African-American woman governor in U.S. history, if elected.
So it is more than a little suspicious that Kemp, who also happens to be the Georgia Secretary of State, is implementing a massive voter purge that just happens to have caught up tens of thousands of black voters.
On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that Kemp has suspended some 53,000 voter registrations in Georgia under a draconian "exact match" policy — an amount equal to about 2 percent of the total number of votes cast in the 2014 gubernatorial race. Under this rule, registrations can be placed "on hold" if the information on file does not match anything in the Georgia Department of Driver Services or the Social Security Administration, even a typo or a dropped hyphen in a name — and Kemp's office is not sending notifications to affected voters. Only 32 percent of the population in Georgia is black — but black people make up 70 percent of those whose registrations have been flagged in the process.
The deadline to register in Georgia was this Tuesday. As the AP notes, "Voters whose applications are frozen in 'pending' status have 26 months to fix any issues before their application is canceled, and can still cast a provisional ballot."
Kemp, for his part, denies any foul play, and his campaign spokesman Ryan Mahoney insists he is only out to "protect the integrity of our elections." But there remains no evidence of illegal voting taking place in Georgia that would require such a mass purge. Kemp further pins the blame for the large number of suspended registrations, and the high racial disparity, on Abrams herself, claiming that the voter registration group she founded, New Georgia Project, was sloppy in taking people's names.
In any event, whatever Kemp's motivations, it is problematic for a state elections secretary to be aggressively pruning the voter rolls in an election where he is seeking higher office. Similar suspicions surrounded the Kansas Republican primary, where infamous voter suppression pioneer Kris Kobach said he would not recuse himself from any recount of the extremely close race in which he narrowly edged out Gov. Jeff Colyer for the gubernatorial nomination.
Georgia has been an epicenter of GOP voter suppression efforts. Earlier this year, a proposal to shut down 7 out of 9 polling places in majority-black Randolph County sparked national outrage, forcing the state to back down. The political operative who suggested the closures, Mike Malone, was reportedly on a list of elections consultants offered to the county by Kemp, although Kemp emphatically denies this.
Recent polls show the race between Kemp and Abrams is neck and neck.
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