Georgia's efforts to elect the first black woman governor in American history this November—the Democrat, Stacey Abrams, is in a statistical tie with her Republican opponent—recently ran into a roadblock of the "insidious voter suppression" variety: The Republican secretary of state froze some 53,000 voter-registration applications flagged by the state's "exact match" law, which requires that Georgians submit information identical to that on file with the Department of Driver Services or the Social Security Administration. This policy extends to dropped hyphens, misplaced accents, and transcriptions errors, which means that the difference between, say, "Beyonce" and "Beyoncé" would be enough to land you on the hold list.
Why does this matter? Affected voters may still cast a provisional ballot, but must correct the discrepancy within 26 months in order to avoid cancellation of their registration. A representative of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law told the AP that this process has been shown to have both a high error rate and also a disproportionate impact on minority voters, and sure enough, although the state's population is 32 percent black, according to an analysis conducted by the AP, the list is 70 percent black. In other words, all signs indicate that the Republican official in charge of administering elections is (ab)using his powers to stack the deck in favor of the Republican gubernatorial hopeful.
Oh, also? They're the same guy. Brian Kemp, the current secretary of state, is running for governor.
In the middle of a tight gubernatorial race in which he is a participant, the secretary of state is freezing a ton of applications submitted by likely supporters of his opponent?
How could anyone possibly justify this policy?
Uh, because as a Republican, you're terrified that you might not win an election to which you feel entitled, and so you rely on fighting the scourge of "voter fraud"—a nonexistent problem whose champions are dumb, bigoted, or some combination thereof—to cherry-pick the members of the electorate?
Okay, but Kemp doesn't actually say that, right?
No. A spokesman says that he is "fighting to protect the integrity of our elections and ensure that only legal citizens cast a ballot." Kemp has also offered a separate rationale that is somehow as dumb and racist as the policy itself: He claims that the "exact match" policy is necessary thanks to the New Georgia Project, a 2014 nonpartisan voter registration initiative that allegedly submitted applications containing inaccurate information to his office. NGP "did not adequately train canvassers to ensure legible, complete forms in the 2014 election cycle," he said in a statement. "If these problems continue, it is because the New Georgia Project remains uniquely sloppy in their registration efforts."
He prefaced this scolding by noting that with Election Day approaching, "it's high time for another frivolous lawsuit from liberal activist groups," because he is definitely doing these things in his capacity as a fair-minded public official and not as a shameless partisan hack.
Who founded the New Georgia Project?
Then-state legislator Stacey Abrams.
So the voters who just happen to be most affected by Kemp's maneuvering are the same ones his opponent helped to register?
Has Brian Kemp been on any other forms of bullshit of late?
You bet he has. The AP reports that his office, in the name of "maintenance," has purged some 1.4 million voter registrations since 2012, and nearly 670,000 in 2017, prompting civil rights groups to threaten litigation. Some of these registrants, according to journalist Greg Palast, had merely moved to another city in the state, or moved across town, or even switched apartments in the same building.
Isn't it important that voter registration information be accurate?
I mean, sure, in a vacuum. But as a humble lover of democracy, I would submit that ensuring that as many people as possible can exercise their right to vote is more important than having flawless paperwork on file; that threatening registrants with cancellation over transcription errors is a ludicrous solution for an inconsequential problem; and that even if you take Kemp's tut-tutting of Abrams' group seriously, punishing citizens for administrative headaches caused by the people who helped them fill out forms is logically and morally indefensible.
Is this the only scam "voter fraud" issue to come up in Georgia recently?
Nope! In August, officials in rural, majority-black Randolph County scrapped plans close seven of the its nine polling places after the ACLU raised hell about it. Kemp's campaign issued a statement applauding the decision, noting that this "ill-advised" move had been recommended by "an independent consultant who is not backed by the Secretary of State's office," perhaps to distinguish it from the more recent ill-advised moves that have been backed by the Secretary of State's office.
Will it ever stop being absurd that a quasi-official plank of the modern Republican Party is that America is the greatest and freest country on earth, but also, that it should be really difficult to vote, and that policies that ensure that fewer people can vote are good, especially when those people are brown?
It will not.