Imagine if batters instead of umpires called balls and strikes. Imagine if receivers instead of referees called interference. Sound absurd? Well, imagine if candidates for office decided who could vote. That is exactly what is happening in Georgia, where Secretary of State Brian Kemp is running for governor, yet insisting that it’s perfectly appropriate for him to oversee the gubernatorial election. This could not be more unfair or un-American, as Kemp’s abuse of his authority clearly illustrates.
Kemp is running for governor against former state representative Stacey Abrams, who is African-American. He has resisted calls to step aside as Secretary of State and instead is blatantly using his position to disenfranchise African-American voters to tilt the election in his favor. This isn’t the first time Kemp has tried to suppress votes for political gain. Since 2012, he has canceled over 1.4 million voter registrations, including nearly 670,000 in 2017. Currently, over 53,000 voter registration applications are sitting in his office on hold, and many affected voters don’t even know their right to vote is in jeopardy. Most alarmingly, according to the Associated Press, nearly 70 percent of the registrations Kemp is holding up are African-American, while African-Americans account for only 32 percent of Georgia’s population.
Civil rights attorneys have filed a lawsuit to stop the “exact match” policy Kemp is using to disenfranchise African-American voters. Under that policy, even a dropped hyphen or a middle initial instead of a middle name could put an otherwise qualified application on hold, if that is the only difference between the application and the applicant’s driver’s license or social security card. It’s very important to note that there has never been evidence of voter fraud in Georgia, save for a literal handful of cases, so Kemp’s policies are unnecessary to protect against such fraud. But as Kemp well knows, his policies do plenty to suppress the vote – in this case, the African-American vote that Kemp knows is more likely to go to Abrams.
Voting is one of the most fundamental American rights, and Kemp’s attempt to suppress votes is nothing less than an attack on that key pillar of American democracy. The U.S. Supreme Court stated in 1886 that voting “is regarded as a fundamental political right” because it is “preservative of all rights.” (Yick Wo v. Hopkins 118 U.S. 386 1886.) Yet Kemp is abusing his authority as Secretary of State by denying Georgians the right to vote in a transparent effort to steal this election.
An elected official who truly understood and believed in democracy would find ways to allow citizens to exercise their right to vote and run on the issues. Instead, knowing he will lose if voters base their choice on the issues, Kemp is doing all he can to disenfranchise voters who are likely to support his opponent.
We expect this sort of thing in Russia, where votes are meaningless and elections are rigged, but not in a robust democracy such as ours. If Kemp is that afraid of democracy, he is unfit to hold any office, let alone the highest office in Georgia.
With the election less than a week away, Georgians of all political beliefs and parties should come together to oppose what all of us, Democrat and Republican alike, should oppose: Attempts to take away a fundamental American right.
Perhaps most important, no one should be intimidated or afraid to exercise their right to vote. Kemp’s decisions are designed to make it harder for people to vote, but he will not succeed if Georgia citizens insist on exercising their right to vote.
Too many Americans have fought and died for the right to vote for us to let Brian Kemp take that right away to give himself an edge in an election he does not deserve to win. Georgia voters must not let Kemp scare them into thinking they cannot vote because their application to vote may have been rejected.
There is only one message for Georgians who believe in democracy and want a brighter future: Don’t let anyone scare you away from the polls. Don’t stay home. Vote. And if they won’t let you vote, make a record that you tried to vote and that Kemp and his Republican supporters tried to stop you. Don’t hesitate to use social media to share your story. That’s the only way to ensure that justice is done and that this election, ultimately, is determined fairly and by the people of Georgia.
Michael Rosenzweig is a lawyer and member of the board of directors of the Jewish Democratic Council of America.
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