Two voting rights groups filed a lawsuit Thursday accusing Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) of unlawfully blocking 53,000 voter registrations ahead of the November election. Kemp is currently in a tightly-contested race against Democrat Stacey Abrams, who would be the first black woman governor in the United States.
Using an “exact match” voter registration system, Kemp’s office flagged tens of thousands of voter registration forms where the voter’s information does not exactly match the information on file by the Department of Driver Services or Social Security Administration databases. In many cases, the error was as small as a missing hyphen. According to an AP report this week, 70 percent of the registrations placed in a “pending” status belong to African American voters.
“Kemp has been a driving force behind multiple voter suppression efforts throughout the years in Georgia,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the groups behind the lawsuit. “If there is one person in Georgia who knows that the ‘Exact Match’ scheme has a discriminatory impact on minority voters, it’s Brian Kemp because we successfully sued him over a mirror policy in 2016.”
The lawsuit, filed by the Lawyers’ Committee and the Campaign Legal Center, alleges that the exact match system violates the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act, and the U.S. Constitution. As Clarke noted, legal groups sued Kemp over the same issue before the 2016 presidential election, and a court ordered Kemp to restore the more than 40,000 registrations he put on hold that year.
“Georgia’s ‘exact match’ protocol has resulted in the cancellation or rejection of tens of thousands of voter registration applications in the past,” Danielle Lang, senior legal counsel with the Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement. “The reintroduction of this practice, which is known to be discriminatory and error-ridden, is appalling.”
Kemp has denied the claims, saying that anybody on the pending list will be allowed to cast a ballot if they show appropriate identification. But voting groups allege that seeing their registration classified as “pending” might dissuade certain voters from casting a ballot, or could lead to long lines and confusion at the polls.
Kemp has also said the pending registrations are a result of error-ridden forms submitted by liberal voter registration groups, like the one Abrams herself founded earlier in her career.
A July report from the Brennan Center for Justice found that states purged more than 16 million voters from the rolls between 2014 and 2016, with low-income and minority voters disproportionately affected. The increase in purged voters was most significant in parts of the country like Georgia with a history of racial discrimination that, until the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013, were required to seek pre-approval of changes to their voting laws from the Department of Justice.
Democratic groups have criticized Kemp for refusing to recuse himself from administering the November election while he appears on the ballot as a gubernatorial candidate. In light of the current controversy over voter registrations, Abrams’ campaign has called on Kemp to resign his position as secretary of state.
This is not the first time Kemp has been accused of attempting to suppress minority voters during this election cycle. In August, a majority-black county in Georgia ended up rejecting a plan to close a majority of its polling locations after immense pushback from voters and advocacy groups. Kemp claimed he had nothing to do with the plan, but the consultant overseeing the proposal was a Kemp ally who was handpicked by the secretary of state to work with the county.