Wednesday, 21 Nov 2018

Why the political fight in Georgia is far from over

Brian Kemp has declared victory, but Stacey Abrams has promised to stay in the race until all votes are counted.

Two days after Georgia voters went to the polls to decide the state’s next governor, the results of that election remain uncalled. Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams have fought over the election results since the polls closed Tuesday evening. That fight ramped up on Thursday, with Kemp resigning from his position as secretary of state after declaring victory while Abrams’s legal team announced her campaign is preparing legal action over uncounted votes in some parts of the state.

The back-and-forth began early Wednesday morning when Abrams told supporters that she would not concede the race, calling for all votes to be counted. “There’s voices that are waiting to be heard,” she said. By Wednesday evening, the margin between the candidates had narrowed, with vote counts showing Kemp beating Abrams 50.3 percent to 48.7 percent.

Kemp’s campaign argues that the election results show a “clear path to victory,” and Kemp declared himself the winner on Wednesday, even as the vote count continues. “Based on counts released by the Secretary of State’s office, Brian Kemp’s margin is so large that the number of provisional ballots and overseas ballots will not change his Election Day victory,” Kemp campaign press secretary Cody Hall said in a statement. That evening, the Georgia secretary of state’s office released a statement claiming there were few outstanding provisional ballots.

The Abrams campaign, however, counters that Kemp and the secretary of state’s office have not shown the math on this, telling reporters on Thursday that additional votes are still coming in from some counties. The campaign also says the entire election has been compromised by Kemp serving in dual roles as a political candidate and the state’s top elections official, adding that his recent resignation does not change things.

“This is much bigger than any one campaign,” campaign chair Allegra Lawrence-Hardy said to reporters Thursday.

Under Georgia law, an election winner must get more than 50 percent of the vote in order to win. if they do not meet that threshold, the election goes to a runoff. A separate law requires that if all votes are tallied and candidates are within 1 percent of one another, votes must be recounted. With close to 4 million votes already counted in the race, Abrams’s campaign needs roughly 25,000 more votes to trigger either of these scenarios.

With the race yet to be called, a contest that already grabbed plenty of pre-election attention due to several voting rights controversies, a last-minute hacking allegation, and a number of Election Day voting issues now hinge on the remaining ballots. As Kemp declares victory, Abrams and her team argue that staying in the race is about more than a single candidate — it is a fight for election integrity in Georgia.

Kemp says the race is over, but Abrams is preparing a lawsuit

Kemp resigned as Georgia’s secretary of state on Thursday, two days after a group of five Georgia voters sued him to force him out of that office. The voters, represented by the Protect Democracy nonprofit, argued that it was a conflict of interest for him to remain in office as votes were counted. The lawsuit sought to have Kemp barred from having anything to do with counting votes, and from overseeing a potential recount or runoff.

During a press conference on Thursday, Kemp said he was not concerned about the suit and was stepping down to begin his transition to governor. “We’ve won and now I’ve got to move on, but the process is true and has been for many, many years in Georgia,” he told reporters.

Soon after, lawyers for Abrams’s campaign held their own press conference, where they explained why the candidate would not be conceding the election and blamed Kemp for a number of issues on Election Day, which saw voters in a handful of precincts with large nonwhite populations deal with hours-long lines, an insufficient number of voting machines, and a dearth of provisional ballots.

Abrams’s campaign also noted that ballots were still being counted in some counties, despite these countries previously reporting that all votes were in. As an example, Abrams campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo mentioned Cobb County, which reported some 300 additional votes this morning. Groh-Wargo and other members of Abrams’s campaign also said they had spoken with college students living out of state who sent back absentee ballots well before the deadline but have yet to receive confirmation of their ballots being counted.

The campaign has encouraged voters who cast provisional and absentee ballots to report these issues with a voter protection hotline. Counties are required to verify their results by 5 pm on November 13.

Abrams’s team also announced they are preparing to file legal action in Georgia’s Dougherty County, which was affected by Hurricane Michael in October. According to Kurt Kastorf, a member of Abrams’s litigation team, absentee ballots were sent to the county late due to a language error and were further delayed due to the hurricane, with some mail eventually being routed through Tallahassee, Florida. The campaign says it has heard from people who received ballots in final days before the election, leaving them with too little time to file and return their ballots by the deadline. Others never received ballots at all. The suit will ask that any ballots received after the deadline be counted.

The recent issues come after a wave of scandals and lawsuits leading up to the Georgia election

In the weeks before the election, Kemp was repeatedly criticized for a number of measures taken by his office, including voter purges that removed more than a million names from the state’s voter rolls between 2012 and 2016. He has also faced several complaints and lawsuits alleging that he was suppressing minority voters, particularly black voters, in an effort to keep Abrams from winning the election.

Several voting and civil rights groups, Abrams’s campaign, and former President Jimmy Carter all called for Kemp to resign from his position as Georgia’s top elections official, arguing that it was a serious conflict of interest.

On October 9, the Associated Press reported that 53,000 voter registrations, 70 percent of them from black applicants, were being held by Kemp’s office for failing to clear an “exact match” process that compares registration information to Social Security and state driver records. While Kemp’s office argued that these voters would be allowed to vote on Election Day if they presented an ID, a number of voters reported problems when they tried to vote, and some said they were turned away from the polls.

And on November 2, a federal court ruled that more than 3,000 voters incorrectly flagged as “noncitizens” by the exact match process must be allowed to vote in the upcoming election because the state failed to update their citizenship status after they were made US citizens. District Court Judge Eleanor Ross argued that there was “a very substantial risk of disenfranchisement” if these voters were not allowed to cast ballots in the election.

There have been other issues as well, most notably when it comes to the high number of people purged from voter rolls in the state. According to the Brennan Center, Kemp’s office purged roughly 1.5 million registered voters between the 2012 and 2016 elections. The AP reports that 670,000 voters were purged last year. A recent report from American Public Media finds that around 107,000 of these voters were purged due to a controversial “use it or lose it” law that removes voters from the rolls if they don’t vote for a certain amount of time.

Kemp countered that much of the criticism of his office is misplaced, and that Abrams and other Democrats are attempting to hurt his campaign by “faking outrage for political gain.” He added, in a recent press release, “Despite any claim to the contrary, it has never been easier to register to vote in Georgia and actively engage in the electoral process.”

But for outside observers, the issues seen in the state clearly contradicted that claim. “It’s impossible to know if his [Kemp’s] attempts to restrict the franchise are what pushed him over the line,” Emory University professor Carol Anderson wrote in the Atlantic on Wednesday. “But if the Georgia race had taken place in another country — say, the Republic of Georgia — U.S. media and the U.S. State Department would not have hesitated to question its legitimacy, if for no other reason than Kemp’s dual roles as candidate and election overseer.”