Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the Republican nominee for governor who's running against longtime Democratic voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, recently raised eyebrows when he said in a leaked audio that he's concerned about voter turnout in his state — "especially if everybody uses and exercises their right to vote."
Kemp has been involved in efforts to keep everybody in his state from doing just that. He was the mastermind behind an exact-match voter registration program that was suspended in 2016 after civil rights organizations sued him for rejecting nearly 35,000 voter registrations over a two-year span. The next year, Georgia lawmakers passed a law that implemented an exact-match program that was only slightly different than Kemp's.
Ignoring multiple calls to step down from his position as the state's top election official ahead of the midterm election, Kemp — who has a history of involvement in voter suppression efforts — has instead used the law to add over 53,000 voters to the pending voter list. Under the exact match law, the validity of these voters' registrations can be called into question for such minor discrepancies as "transposition of a single letter or number, deletion or addition of a hyphen or apostrophe, the accidental entry of an extra character or space, and the use of a familiar name like 'Tom' instead of 'Thomas'."
Over 70 percent of those whose applications have been labeled as "pending" are African-American — a demographic that has shown strong support for Abrams, who is vying to become the nation's first Black woman governor.
Voting rights advocates are pushing back against Kemp's efforts. Last month, groups including Asian Americans Advancing Justice Atlanta, Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda, and the state NAACP chapter filed a lawsuit against Kemp, calling for an end to enforcement of the exact-match law. Kemp's office is also facing another suit challenging the extremely high rejection rate of absentee ballots cast by Black, Hispanic, and Asian voters in Gwinnett County.
Though both suits are still pending, this week a federal judge ruled against Kemp in the latter, denying his request to pause an injunction that forbids election officials from rejecting absentee ballots without first notifying the voters and allowing them to fix any issues.
As Georgia voters get ready to head to the polls on Nov. 6, the Leadership Conference Education Fund, the Campaign Legal Center, and Access Democracy have launched a campaign to ensure that the 53,000 voters on the pending list know their rights. In a statement released this week, the coalition noted that it sent postcard mailers and targeted text messages to the impacted voters, telling them what they need to bring to the polls on Election Day to make sure their votes are counted: a valid photo ID.
Because Georgia already has a strict ID law in place, every voter in the state must show a photo ID before casting a ballot. Those on the pending list who are able to produce an ID that is a "substantial match" to their voter registration application will then be able to vote using a regular ballot — not a provisional one that's counted only under certain circumstances.
The Abrams campaign and voting rights advocates are engaging in an aggressive campaign to help get voters off the pending list before Election Day. But anyone who is unable to get themselves off the pending list before then can still vote by requesting a provisional ballot.
"While we wait for our court case to be resolved in Georgia, it is important that voters in the state know their rights and show up to vote," said Daniele Lang, senior legal counsel at the Campaign Legal Center.