Georgia Governor’s Race Roiled by Election Security Charges

Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams smiles before speaking to supporters during an election-night watch party, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATLANTA (CN) – The exceedingly tight race to be the next governor of Georgia entered its final day embroiled in controversy Monday, after Republican candidate and current Secretary of State Brian Kemp accused Democrats of trying to hack the state’s voter registration system.

Kemp made the unsupported allegations on Sunday, asking the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the matter. Pressed for details on the campaign trail, Kemp said the situation was brought to his attention by an unnamed citizen and he refused to back down.

“I’m simply doing my job,” he said Monday.

But his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, said Kemp is making a baseless accusation to deflect attention from an apparently severe security flaw in the system he is responsible for overseeing.

Over 2 million votes have already been counted in the high-profile race which could end with the election of the first black, female governor in U.S. history. According to RealClearPolitics, Kemp is currently polling slightly ahead of Abrams, by 2.8 percent, but that’s well within the margin of error of the most reliable polls and the race is considered a tossup.

As of Monday afternoon, the election analysis website FiveThirtyEight forecast that Kemp is likely to receive 50.6 percent of the vote, compared to Abrams’ 48.3 percent share.

If neither candidate is able to secure more than 50 percent of the vote Tuesday evening, the race will head to a December 4 runoff.

But neither candidate, nor their respective political parties, want the race to come to that.

In recent days a number of political heavyweights and celebrities have visited the state to stump for the candidates.

Both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence  have headlined rallied to gin up support for Kemp, whileAbrams has received in-person support from former President Barack Obama, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and a number of celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey.

In this July 26, 2018 photo, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp appears during a unity rally, in Peachtree Corners, Ga. Georgia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is trying to reach voters who don’t usually vote in midterm elections in the hopes to drive up turnout in her race against Kemp. (AP Photo/John Amis, File)

On Sunday, Trump called the election “one of the most important elections of our lifetime” and heartily endorsed Kemp, saying that candidate would “protect your jobs, defend your borders, fight for your values and continue to make America great again.”

On Friday, former President Obama attended a rally with Abrams at Morehouse College’s Forbes Arena in Atlanta.

Obama told the crowd that America is at a “crossroads” and assured them that Abrams would help get the country back on track.

“The healthcare of millions of people are on the ballot. Making sure that working families get a fair shake is on the ballot. But maybe most of all the character of our country is on the ballot,” Obama said.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, independent political campaign committees and advocacy groups have dumped $17 million into Georgia races this year, using much of the money to pay for online ads and mailers and to help coordinate volunteers for canvassing.

These include Planned Parenthood, the National Rifle Association and the National Association of Realtors.

Campaign finance disclosures revealed that the Georgia Republican and Democratic parties have raised a combined $34 million this year. Kemp and Abrams have raised a combined total of $43 million themselves.

By comparison, in 2016, the state Republican party raised $4 million and the Democratic party raised just $3.1 million.

While Kemp has managed to raise the majority of his money from sources in Georgia, Abrams has done the majority of her fundraising out of state.

This has left Abrams vulnerable to attacks from Kemp, who has characterized her as a liberal extremist who can’t be trusted to “put Georgians first.”

But given the historic nature of her nomination, it was impossible for Abrams to avoid the national spotlight, and she’s been a staple of late-night talk shows and morning news programs over the life of her campaign.

In a Monday morning interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Abrams told anchor George Stephanopoulos that her victory would “send an incredibly strong message that the face of leadership is evolving in the United States.”

“That doesn’t mean anyone is being pushed out. It means that more are being added to the conversation, and I hope I’m just the first of many,” Abrams said.

Jessica Forte-Paul, 30, and Allison Forte-Paul, 32, a married couple who both work as educators in the Atlanta metro area, both said they’re voting for Stacey Abrams.

“She really seems to be a candidate for everybody, and comparatively speaking Kemp seems to target a specific demographic that we do not meet by any terms. He doesn’t seem to be super supportive of people of color, especially women of color, and also LGBTQ rights,” Jessica Forte-Paul said.

Allison referred to Kemp as “divisive” and said her decision to vote for Abrams was partially due to a desire to see more “women in power.”

Nathan Bubes, a 42-year-old middle school teacher, said that he was supporting Abrams in the hopes that her election could lead to a shake-up in Georgia’s electoral system.

“It would show that women, minorities can run and can win and can effect change. In the grand scheme of policy and how the government is run, it’s a well-oiled machine that we’re trying to rust up,” Bubes said.

Bubes expressed concerns that Republican redistricting efforts and Kemp’s enforcement of Georgia’s strict voter ID laws could present a challenge to Abrams’ campaign.

Voting rights have remained a constant topic of conversation in Georgia throughout the campaign and the early voting period, especially after a deluge of voter suppression allegations and lawsuits emerged against Kemp in October.

Over a two week period in October, Kemp was sued five times in federal court on charges of voting irregularities.

On Oct. 11, the NAACP and other civil rights organizations sued Kemp’s office claiming that the secretary of state had unfairly frozen over 50,000 voting registrations under Georgia’s controversial “exact match” law.

The “exact match” law requires information on voter registrations, absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots to exactly match information contained in the government’s databases. A simple mistake, like an omitted hyphen or an additional space in a name, could cause a registration to be rejected.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit claimed that approximately 80 percent of the pending registrations belonged to people of color. An investigation by the Associated Press found that 70 percent of the applications belong to black voters.

On Oct. 15, the Coalition for Good Governance filed a complaint in federal court against Kemp’s office alleging that Georgia’s second most-populous county rejects absentee ballots at an excessive rate under the “exact match” law.

And on Oct. 16, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against the secretary of state’s office claiming that Georgia’s election officials unfairly rejected hundreds of absentee ballots under the “exact match” law due to allegedly invalid voter signatures.

On Oct. 25, a federal judge ruled against Kemp and issued an injunction blocking Georgia’s election officials from rejecting absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots due to alleged signature mis-matches.

Kemp has resisted calls by voter advocacy groups and prominent Democrats, including former President Jimmy Carter, to resign from his position as secretary of state and recuse himself from overseeing the election while he is running as a candidate.

In a televised debate on Oct. 23, Kemp said he would not break his oath of office by stepping down.

Bryan Wilson, a 55-year-old IT manager who lives in Cobb County, said he’ll cast a ballot for Kemp on Tuesday. Wilson denied having concerns about the allegations of voter suppression against Kemp, telling Courthouse News, “Brian Kemp is performing his duties as a state official and enforcing state law. It’s out of Kemp’s hands.”

Adele Fox, a 67-year-old retired executive assistant who says she used to identify as a Democrat, says that she’s voting for Kemp because she feels Democrats have failed to adequately represent American citizens.

“There’s not an interest in maintaining the integrity of the country or the sovereignty of the borders,” she said, adding that she agrees with Kemp’s views on immigration.

Kemp has said that he supports creating a “comprehensive database to track criminal aliens in Georgia” and has said that he wants to ban sanctuary cities in the state.

Dr. Fang Zhou, an associate professor of history at Georgia Gwinnett College, says he’s also voting for Kemp based on his immigration policies.

Zhou, who emigrated to the United States from China several years ago, says he feels strongly that illegal immigrants are “cheaters” who will attempt to circumvent voter ID laws by using “fake documents.”

“I think for legal immigrants, like myself, there’s a long process … Illegal immigrants are cheaters and if they will cheat to sneak across the border in the middle of the night, it’s highly likely they will also try to cheat in elections to game the system,” Dr. Zhou said.

According to conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, fewer than two dozen cases of voter fraud have been prosecuted in Georgia in the last two decades.

Despite the allegations of voter suppression against the secretary of state’s office, voter turnout during the early voting period in Georgia surpassed previous years.

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