Purged Voters’ “Provisional” Ballots Could Decide Georgia Governor Race

On Sunday, I watched President Donald Trump warn a rally in Macon, Georgia, that Stacey Abrams, running to become the first Black female governor in US history, “is one of the most extreme far left politicians in the entire country,” adding, “You put Stacey in there, you’re going to have Georgia turn into Venezuela. I don’t think the people of Georgia like that.”

Trump’s rant against Abrams has not driven away her many supporters. But voters like Atlanta filmmaker Rahiem Shabazz are being driven away from the ballot box nonetheless.

“I want to vote for Stacey Abrams,” Shabazz told me, but “I won’t be able to vote in the November 6 election.”

Shabazz’s voter registration — his right to vote — has been canceled by Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brian Kemp.

Notably, Kemp, while running the election for the state of Georgia, is also running in the election for governor of Georgia — against Democrat Abrams.

Rahiem is just one of more than 340,134 Georgians Kemp has purged from the voter rolls based on dead-wrong evidence they’d moved from the state or from their home county. It took a federal lawsuit — which I filed jointly with voting rights advocate Helen Butler — to force Kemp to divulge the names and addresses of those whose registration he canceled in a single year, 2017.

And, while Kemp may believe that the tidal wave of purges may overcome a Democratic Blue Wave, there is another possibility: When a voter turning up to the polling station discovers his/her registration is missing or canceled, the voter has the right, under federal law, to cast a “provisional” ballot.

However, the man who decides whether these “provisional” ballots will be counted is … Brian Kemp.

But Kemp should stop grinning. “Federal judges may feel differently about Kemp’s right not to count these provisional ballots,” says Jeanne Mirer, lead attorney on the lawsuit filed against Kemp in October. If the court determines that Kemp misused his power as Georgia’s “Purge’n General,” it could order that those provisional votes be counted.

President Trump watches as Georgia gubernatorial candidate and Secretary of State Brian Kemp speaks at a "Make America Great" rally in Macon, Georgia, on November 4, 2018.
President Trump watches as Georgia gubernatorial candidate and Secretary of State Brian Kemp speaks at a “Make America Great” rally in Macon, Georgia, on November 4, 2018.

No Notice for Purged Voters

Rahiem Shabazz, like hundreds of thousands of others, had no idea he’d been flushed from the rolls, and assumed he was still registered. Kemp sent out no notice to voters after canceling their registrations.

Then Shabazz heard on the radio that the Palast Investigative Fund had posted every purged voter’s name. “And lo and behold, my name is there and it’s telling me that I have to re-register to vote!”

He did attempt to re-register for the election, but Kemp’s office informed him it would take at least three weeks to verify his registration information. Conveniently for Kemp, that would be a week past Election Day.

Federal law permits Kemp to cancel the registrations of voters who move out of state or out of their home county. But Shabazz, like every one of the 340,134 wrongly purged voters, never moved from his home county, let alone the state.

“I never left the state of Georgia,” Shabazz said. “I never left the county. My license has me in the same county. So, all they had to do is look at my DMV records and they will see that I live in the same county.”

Shabazz noted that the government has no trouble finding him to pay a parking ticket, or pay his taxes. But when purging voters, Kemp does not check his own state’s DMV or tax records or even the post office to see if voters have moved.

Rather, Kemp looks at voting records. Miss two elections, and Kemp takes that as evidence the voter has moved away. That infuriates Shabazz, who skipped two elections because he didn’t like his choices. And, he says, “you have a Constitutional right to vote and a Constitutional right not to vote, right?”

A Clear Violation of Voting Rights

Scholars are debating whether the right to vote is implicit in the Constitution, but there’s no doubt that voting rights are explicit in federal law. The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993 states, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote is a fundamental right.”

And there’s more: “It is the duty of the Federal, State, and local governments to promote the exercise of that right.”

Furthermore, says attorney Jeanne Mirer, the National Voter Registration Act explicitly prohibits state voting officials from purging voters simply for not voting

Kemp — and two dozen other GOP Secretaries of State — claim they don’t use non-voting as grounds for taking away a person’s vote. They claim non-voting is merely evidence, when combined with failure to return a postcard to the secretary of state, that a voter moved away.

But this “evidence” is clearly faulty. Experts from CohereOne found, reviewing the DMV, postal records and dozens of other records, that not one of these 340,134 Georgians has moved.

Moreover, Kemp’s odd reliance on postcards to verify addresses has a serious built-in racial bias. The US Census reports that renters, young people and people of color in the US — i.e., Democrats — neither get nor return government cards and letters anywhere near the response rates of white, suburban, older homeowners — i.e., Republicans.

The National Voter Registration Act does require Kemp and other secretaries of state “to ensure that accurate and current voter registration rolls are maintained.”

GOP officials call it voter list “cleansing.” Shabazz says, “I wouldn’t call it cleansing the voting roll. I would call it ethnic cleansing.”

It is a cruel irony that Kemp cites the National Voter Registration Act as the excuse for the purge-by-postcard trick, because using voting history and postcards makes the list monstrously inaccurate.

Purged Voters Get Out the Vote

During Trump’s Georgia rally, assorted right-wing and white supremacist attendants took selfies in front of Air Force One, while fanatics sported QAnon, Three Percenter and Oath Keepers T-shirts. Proud Boys flashed “white power” signs. One Trumper thought Abrams’ supporters should stop complaining, telling me, “We all have rules to vote. Just follow the rules.”

Still, Kemp’s wrongful purging frenzy may, in the end, backfire, even if it does not come down to a court fight over the provisional ballots.

Shabazz warns Kemp, “You took one vote away, but Stacey Abrams is going to get 10 more because I’m going to bring 10 more people out to vote.”

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