Staggering Voter Suppression in Georgia Could Keep Democrats Out of Power

Stacey Abrams could become Georgia's first black governor, but her opponent Brian Kemp is also overseeing the election — where voter suppression is rampant.

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 18: Voters wait in line to early vote at C.T. Martin Natatorium and Recreation Center on October 18, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.  Early voting started in Georgia on October 15th.  Georgia's Gubernatorial election is a close race between Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams and Republican candidate Brian Kemp.  (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Voters wait in line to early vote at C.T. Martin Natatorium and Recreation Center on Oct. 18, 2018, in Atlanta.

Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Last week, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said something that I thought was perhaps the most disturbing indicator of just how severe the voter suppression has been in Georgia. In case you missed it, in a state that has been solidly Republican for a generation, Democrat Stacey Abrams is in a dead heat with Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp in the race for governor. It’s a big deal: Abrams could become the first black governor of Georgia. (Full disclosure: In my personal capacity, outside of my work for The Intercept, I have endorsed Abrams in the race.)

That’s why it’s so disturbing that every few days, a new story of voter suppression comes out.

It is, of course, an outrageous conflict of interest for the man who oversees Georgia’s elections to be simultaneously running for the highest office in the state. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single reasonable person who says otherwise. Kemp should have stepped down from his role as secretary of state, or at least recused himself from all election oversight, the moment he decided to run for governor.

The stories of voter suppression detail how thousands and thousands of voters, almost always African-American, have somehow been disenfranchised. About 47,000 voter registration applications — most of them from black residents — are on hold with Kemp’s office under the state’s “exact match” law. And his office held up the re-application to register for those folks, too. The applications weren’t fraudulent, but were put on hold if the information in them — including someone’s signature or even a dash in their name — did not perfectly match information on file with the Department of Motor Vehicles. It’s preposterous and has nothing at all to do with voter security.

While voters with pending registrations can still cast a ballot if they bring their IDs to the polls, confusion is widespread — and those votes could determine this election.

And that takes me back to what Khanna said last week. Khanna criticized Kemp for not resigning and pointed to the registrations on hold. “Our response should be forceful and clear,” Khanna tweeted. “If @staceyabrams ends up with less votes in a close but illegitimate election, she should REFUSE to concede.”

I agree with him. I spoke to Khanna about this before appearing on a panel with him this past week at San Jose State University. I told him that, while I agreed with him, it shocked the hell out of me to hear him say it. Because we live in an age of shocking words and events, it’s painfully easy to look over exactly what Khanna said.

Before a major election has even taken place, a sitting member of Congress is already advising a candidate not to concede if they lose. I’ve never seen that before. And this isn’t about sour grapes; it’s about the uncertainty among voters that they will be able to cast a valid vote on Election Day, and the possibility that so much other ugliness is going on there, too.

An analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice found that Georgia has been accelerating the rate of its voter purging in recent years. Between 2008 and 2012, the study found, the state purged some 750,000 voters. In the following four years, between 2012 and 2016, 1.5 million voters were purged from the rolls — in a state with a total population of just over 10 million people!

And there’s more. Black voters across the state are complaining about election machines changing their votes for Abrams to votes for Kemp. And more than 200 voting precincts have closed across the state. In a separate case, after a call from a county official, black senior citizens were ordered off a bus that was taking them to vote.

I first moved to Atlanta in 1997 to go to college. I was married there. My kids were born there. I bought my first home there. I called Atlanta home for most of the past 20 years. And I’ve never seen anything like what is happening there right now. As the possibility of a statewide Democratic victory has increased, so, too, have heinous voter suppression tactics.

Georgia previously ranked No. 43 out of 50 states in election integrity, according to a Butler University professor’s rankings. That fact alone should disqualify the man who runs the state’s elections from running for governor. I’d be surprised if the state didn’t plummet to last place after this election season, but that’s not the point. Those with power don’t seem to mind the anti-democratic trend very much, because it’s not their votes that are being suppressed.

Correction: October 27, 2018, 4:10 p.m. EST
This article has been corrected to clarify the number of voter registrations pending in Georgia and the fact that voters with pending registrations are not prevented from casting a ballot at the polls. 

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