As early voting kicks off, allegations of voter suppression are rising out of Georgia as voters choose between former-state house Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp in the tight race for governor. As Secretary of State, Kemp is responsible for crafting and carrying out voting policies in the state.
Currently, roughly 53,000 new voter registration applications have been put on hold because of Georgia’s exact match law verification process. “Exact match,” a policy that was overseen by Kemp and passed into law last year, states that in order for people to become active registered voters, their voter registration applications must exactly match their driver’s license or Social Security information. The differences can be as simple as missing a hyphen in a name.
Abrams and various civil rights groups are suing the state of Georgia and Kemp saying that “exact match” disproportionately targets minority voters. Of the 53,000 pending voter registrations, 70 percent are for African-American voters. Moreover, many of the pending registrations were voters who were signed up by Abrams’ New Georgia Project, which aimed to boost minority voter registrations. Many of the pending voters were unaware that their voter registration has been held up.
According to Georgia’s voting laws, voters whose registrations are pending have 26 months to fix any issues before their application is canceled, and can still cast a provisional ballot. But this process can be daunting and difficult, especially if it is not addressed until voting day when thousands of likely-unprepared volunteers will staff voting precincts across the state. Abrams believes that uncertainty brought by pending registrations may prevent people from voting.
Meanwhile, in Gwinnett County absentee ballots are being discarded at an alarming rate, more than in any other county in Georgia. According to a report by Politically Georgia, nearly one in ten vote-by-mail ballots have been rejected by Gwinnett County election officials because of mismatched signatures, incomplete forms, or missing residential address. Through Sunday, a total of 390 absentee ballots have been rejected and the majority of rejected absentee ballots were for insufficient oath information. According to the report, Gwinnett County makes up 37 percent of all rejected ballots in Georgia. The majority of Gwinnett county residents are Hispanic, Black, and Asian and due to its large Hispanic population, Gwinnett is the only county in Georgia that is required to provide election materials in English and Spanish.
On Monday, 40 Black senior citizens were told to get off a bus arranged by a non-profit that was prepared to take them to cast their early ballots. The bus was plastered with Black empowerment photos and raised fists and was owned by Black Voters Matter, an organization whose purpose is to increase power in communities through active and effective voting. Black Voters Matter members were touring across Georgia to speak on the importance of voting. After speaking to seniors at Leisure Center in Jefferson County, the seniors asked if Black Voters Matter could take them to cast their ballots. According to The Hill, the group of seniors were ordered off the bus because transporting the group would count as “political activity,” which would violate the county policy. However, Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown told Think Progress there was nothing illegal about the group’s activity since Black Voters Matter is non-partisan and does not endorse a specific candidate.
Early voting in Georgia runs from Monday October 15th until November 2nd.
Newswire sources: The Washington Post 10/9/18, 10/16/18; NPR 10/13/18; The New York Times 10/15/18; Politically Georgia 10/15/18; Think Progress 10/15/18; The Hill 10/16/18