ATLANTA (CN) — The Georgia NAACP complained to the Georgia Board of Elections on Tuesday that electronic voting machines in four counties switched votes for governor from Democrat Stacey Abrams to Republican Brian Kemp. The complaints are particularly notable because Kemp, as Georgia secretary of state, is in charge of voting.
The issue is especially riven in this vitriolic campaign season as Kemp’s Democratic opponent, Abrams, is striving to become Georgia’s first black female governor.
Even before the latest lawsuit, Kemp had been sued five times in the past two weeks on charges of voting irregularities.
On Thursday, Kemp filed his own emergency motion to try to block a federal injunction that prevents his elections officials from rejecting absentee ballots for so-called signature mismatches.
Kemp enforces what appears to be the nation’s strictest policy, rejecting voting registrations if, for example, they contain a middle initial though the state driving license record or Social Security records do not, or if they fail to include a middle initial though the other records do, or for the matter of a missing or additional hyphen.
In an Oct. 11 lawsuit in Atlanta Federal Court, the NAACP and others claimed that as of July 4, Kemp’s office had put 51,111 voting registration applicants in “pending” status because of alleged failures in his “exact match.” Those plaintiffs claimed that more than 80 percent of the “pending” registrations were from people of color, while less than 10 percent of the pending applications were from white people.
A separate investigation by the Associated Press found that 70 percent of the frozen applications belong to black voters.
On Thursday this week, U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May ordered Kemp’s office to stop rejecting absentee ballots flagged for lack of “exact match,” and to treat them as provisional ballots. Kemp immediately challenged that injunction Thursday, asking it be set aside while he appeals to the 11th Circuit.
The state conference of the NAACP said it has received complaints from voters in Bartow, Cobb, Henry, and Dodge counties, who said touch-screen electronic voting machines failed to register their selections correctly or showed a ballot as cast before the voter could actually make a selection.
The NAACP told USA Today that it filed the complaints electronically on behalf of eight voters.
“The essence of our democracy is at stake and the NAACP is paying close attention to the continuous flow of irregularities and voter suppression issues emerging out of Georgia,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement Wednesday.
Allegations of voter suppression are rampant in Georgia, where the tight race for governor has garnered national attention.
Kemp has been Georgia’s secretary of state since 2010. During his tenure, his office his canceled more than 1.4 million voter registrations. In 2017 alone, approximately 670,000 registrations were removed from the rolls, for alleged signature mismatches, failure to vote in a previous election, or other reasons.
Pamela Grimes, one of the eight voters who claimed to have experienced a voting machine malfunction, told USA Today that she tried to cast a vote for Abrams several times at her polling place in Bartow County before the machine allowed her to unmark the box for Kemp and vote for Abrams.
“I was not going to leave until everything was the way I wanted it,” Grimes told the newspaper. “If I had not been focused, my vote would have went for him.”
NAACP Georgia State President Phyllis Blake said in a statement: “We’ve had a steady stream of reported malfunctions of voting machines and refuse to sit idly by while this election is compromised.”
Kemp’s office confirmed Thursday afternoon that election officials had received the complaints on Wednesday, but said that investigators were unable to find evidence that the machines had actually malfunctioned, and ascribed at least one of the alleged malfunctions to user error.
Kemp’s office said it has not opened a formal investigation into the matter.
According to state elections officials, most of Georgia's 27,000 voting machines have been in service since 2002.
An Oct. 15 lawsuit against Kemp from five voters asked a federal judge to force the state to switch to paper ballots before the November election. That federal complaint alleged that Georgia’s voting system is outdated and vulnerable to hacking.
U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg denied an emergency injunction which would have forced voters to use paper ballots exclusively, but ordered the state to switch to a more secure system by 2020.
Georgia is one of five states that use electronic voting machines that do not provide a paper trail backup.
Cyber security and elections systems experts have warned that without an auditable paper trail backup, auditors will be unable to accurately determine whether voting machine software has been compromised.
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