Brian Kemp: Conflict of interest not only Georgia voting issue

GOP Georgia gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp.

The state of Georgia is home to one of the most watched 2018 gubernatorial elections in the country. Democrat Stacey Abrams, a former State House leader, is literally neck and neck with GOP candidate Brian Kemp, Georgia’s current Secretary of State. With two weeks left before Election Day (Nov. 6), the two candidates are statistically tied.

Abrams has already made history as the first Black woman to receive a major political party gubernatorial nomination in the nation and is poised to make history again if she becomes the nation’s first African American woman governor.

Kemp has come under fire because as Secretary of State, he enforces Georgia’s voting laws including the controversial ‘exact match’ laws, one of the most controversial set of voting laws in the country.

Overseeing the voter registration process for your state while you’re actually campaigning for votes in a state election is a definite conflict of interest, which isn’t the only issue. The exact match laws enacted by the Georgia legislature are also problematic for a variety of reasons including the high probability of error.

According to this 2017 Georgia law, if Secretary Kemp, whose middle name is Porter has Brian Porter Kemp on his Georgia driver’s license which he plans to use as his ID for voting, registers to vote as Brian Kemp without Porter as his middle name, then his registration can be flagged because it is not an ‘exact match.’

Kemp’s office recently blocked the registrations of 53,000 voters because of various violations. Out of those voters, 70 percent of the blocked registrations belong to African Americans. Georgia’s ‘exact match’ laws can also ‘hold’ or ‘block’ registrations that are missing hyphens between names. Not surprisingly, this caveat can impact Latinx voters, many of whom have hyphenated names. Abrams, who has called Kemp “is fighting against the laws along with other groups who say the laws are in place to suppress minority votes.

Kemp’s camp says the laws are in place to maintain the integrity of the voting process and to protect against voter fraud. Where is the concern for integrity when a candidate who is running for office is also overseeing the voter registration process? Shouldn’t Kemp have stepped down once he secured the GOP’s nomination? If integrity or the appearance of integrity is so important to the voting process, then why haven’t these issues also been addressed?

Many are wondering what happens if your registration is flagged? The flagged voter is notified and can try to have the registration reconciled at the polling station or voter registration office. If the person fails to vote in a particular election, then the registration is cancelled after 26 months. It seems the state should try and reconcile the voter registrations before placing the registrations on hold; that would be showing integrity.

In 2016, Kemp’s office was previously sued by a group of civil rights organizations because the office enacted the exact match requirement for voters upon assuming the office of Secretary of State in 2010.

Between 2013 and 2015, 35,000 voter registration forms were blocked and the majority of them belonged to minority voters. One year after settling the lawsuit and ‘retiring’ the exact match program, the GOP controlled Georgia legislature passed a new exact match law.

There is now another lawsuit, which will probably not be decided in time for the November election. What Kemp’s office refers to as ‘voter roll maintenance,’ his opponents call ‘voter roll purges.’ To offer context, Kemp’s office has canceled over 1.4 million voter registrations since 2012. In 2017, 670,000 registrations were canceled.

What does this mean? Georgia’s registered voters need to check their voter registration status immediately, particularly if they plan to vote in the November election. If the voter is flagged, then the voter needs to reconcile the voter registration with the elections office in their county of residence prior to the November 6 election.

Unfortunately, the laws are probably not going to be changed prior to this election. It seems that Kemp has absolutely no plans of stepping down from his role as Secretary of State before the election.

The fate of this historic election truly rests in the hands of Georgia voters. The question remains will enough voters turn out for the election and bring the ‘blue wave’ to a decidedly red state, despite the ongoing efforts to stymie voter registration and participation? Time will tell and so will voter turnout.

(Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is the entertainment and culture editor for the National Newspaper Publishers Association. She is founder and editor-in-chief of the award-winning news blog The Burton Wire that covers news of the African Diaspora. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual or @TheBurtonWire.)