Georgia’s First Black Gubernatorial Nominee Faces Massive Voter Suppression

With the midterm elections just three weeks away, voting rights advocates are accusing Republican officials in several states of orchestrating a campaign of voter suppression targeting people of color. In Georgia, the Democratic candidate for governor, Stacey Abrams, is calling on her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, to step down as secretary of state for placing 53,000 voter applications on hold. Seventy percent of the applicants are African-American. Abrams has accused Kemp of using the state’s “exact match” system to disenfranchise voters. With exact match, even a minor discrepancy in a voter’s registration and their official ID could bar them from casting a ballot. We speak with Carol Anderson, chair of the Department of African American Studies at Emory University in Atlanta. She is author of the new book One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy.

Transcript

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: With the midterm elections just three weeks away, voting rights advocates are accusing Republican officials in several states of orchestrating a campaign of voter suppression targeting people of color. In Georgia, the Democratic candidate for governor, Stacey Abrams, who could become the first black woman governor in the country, is calling on her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, to step down as secretary of state for placing 53,000 voter applications on hold, 70 percent of them African-American. Stacey Abrams, along with several civil rights groups, have accused Kemp of using the state’s “exact match” system to disenfranchise voters. With exact match, even a minor discrepancy in a voter’s registration and their official ID could bar them from casting a ballot. This is Stacey Abrams speaking to CNN on Sunday.

STACEY ABRAMS: You have 53,000 people who are being forced to go through unnecessary hurdles to prove their bona fides. But the second is that you have 159 counties, thousands of volunteer and paid poll workers, who are going to be asked to substantially verify that these IDs are sufficient, and the challenge is this is a subjective standard. … Voting should not be a question of trust on the part of voters, whether they can trust the system. And right now he is eroding the public trust in the system, because 53,000 people have been told, “You may be able to vote; you may not. It’s up to you to prove it.” … I would say that we have known since 2016 that the “exact match” system has a disproportionate effect on people of color and on women. He was sued for this exact problem. He was forced to restore 33,000 illegally canceled registrations. And he turned around and got the state Legislature to pass a law to allow him to make the same mistake again.

AMY GOODMAN: In other news from Georgia, election officials in Gwinnett County outside Atlanta have rejected far more absentee ballots than any other county in the state, with nearly one out of 10 mail-in ballots thrown out. The move has alarmed voting rights groups, who note more than 60 percent of Gwinnett County’s residents are Latino, black or Asian.

For more on voter suppression in Georgia, we’re joined by Carol Anderson, chair of the African American Studies Department at Emory University in Atlanta, author of the new book One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy. Her previous books include White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, which won the 2017 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Professor Anderson. So, talk about this latest controversy. People are already voting in Georgia right now. What’s at stake? Well, the Democratic candidate, Stacey Abrams, could be the first African-American woman governor in U.S. history. Talk about what Brian Kemp, the secretary of state, Republican candidate running against her, has done with these 53,000 voter forms.

CAROL ANDERSON: And so, he has—what they say is—put it in pending status, so that they’re basically suspended. They’re in a kind of election limbo, where they haven’t been automatically put on the voter registration rolls. And exact match is exactly as pernicious and malicious as Stacey Abrams has said, as the courts have said, because what it does is it looks at minor things. So, if you’ve got a hyphen in your name when you filled out your voter registration card, but, say, your driver’s license doesn’t have the hyphen there—Garcia-Marquez with a hyphen, Garcia Marquez without the hyphen—then that registration is kicked out and is put in this kind of limbo status. And because things like a hyphen or an accent mark or a “Y” instead of an “I”—those kinds of things immediately begin to go after the names for African Americans, for Hispanics and for Asians. This is why you’re seeing that kind of disproportionate elimination of these registration cards. It’s as pernicious as Kris Kobach’s Crosscheck.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this whole issue of having one of the candidates for the seat also be in charge of overseeing the election process, could you talk about that, as well?

CAROL ANDERSON: Yes. And so, imagine this: You’re playing a game where you’re trying to win, but you’re also the referee, and so you get to choose when a foul has been called. Anybody would look at that and say, “Wait a minute. That game is skewed.” And that’s what’s happening here. Integrity would require Brian Kemp to recuse himself, to step down as secretary of state in this kind of high-profile election. Instead, he has not.

And so we see things going on, like prior to this we had the trying to shut down the polling places in majority African-American counties or counties that had sizable black populations, so like in Randolph County, where one of Kemp’s allies tried to—you know, recommended that seven of nine polling stations shut down before the general election. I mean, that kind of interference, that kind of skewed decision-making, is what Stacey Abrams is talking about when she says that it is calling into question the legitimacy of the election. It is calling into question the legitimacy of our electoral processes. And so, as secretary of state, that is the bedrock foundation of his role, is to ensure the integrity of the election process. Kemp sitting on top of this one undermines that.

AMY GOODMAN: Brian Kemp, the secretary state and the Republican candidate for governor, tweeted Sunday, “My opponent is unapologetically extreme. She’s banking on illegal immigrants to secure victory for her at the ballot box.” Professor Anderson?

CAROL ANDERSON: Yes. And so, that is—Kemp is so much like Kris Kobach out of Kansas. You know, Kobach has been riding that lie of noncitizens voting en masse, skewing the elections in Kansas, and only he can block them. And by raising the flag of “illegal” immigrants, it is playing to a racist trope that’s in the body politic that these immigrants are going to somehow steal our elections. But he cannot point to—the same way that Kris Kobach could not point to all of these illegal immigrants. It is a fiction. It is a lie. It is a myth that is being used to stir up fear and to justify the kind of unwarranted voter suppression techniques that these secretaries of state, like Brian Kemp and Kris Kobach, are using.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to go back to this whole issue of the closing of polling places. Most people really don’t pay attention to what happens in polling places other than theirs. And could you talk about the impact on voter turnout of sudden either closings of voting places or shifting of voting places from one location to another just before an election?

CAROL ANDERSON: Oh, absolutely. So, one of the things to pay attention to is that after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act with the Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013, by the time we got to the 2016 election, states that had been under preclearance—and that is where because of their history of racial discrimination at the polls, they had to have all of their voting rights—voting changes approved by the Department of Justice—after the voting rights was gutted, 868 polling places were shut down by the time we got to the 2016 election. Brian Kemp has been responsible for 214 of those polling places being shut down.

What the research shows is that for every tenth of a mile that a polling place is removed from the African-American community, black voter turnout goes down by 0.5 percent. So the more you move these polling places, the further and further, the more and more you’re able to depress the black voter turnout. So we had an instance in Sparta where, under the guise of being fiscally responsible, they were going to consolidate the polling stations. Well, when they consolidated the polling stations, the one for the black community—and I can say the black community because we do have residential segregation in the United States—so, for the one in the black community, that one was moved 17 miles away.

Now, think about that for trying to vote. And what we also know is that many in the African-American community do not have private cars. They don’t have personal transportation, so they have to rely upon public transportation. So when you move a polling place further and further away from the black community, by that very moment, that very instance is designed to depress the black voter turnout.

AMY GOODMAN: In June, Democracy Now! spoke with Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia.

STACEY ABRAMS: Secretary Kemp has unfortunately built a very strong record of voter suppression. And, yes, he and I have—we’ve conflicted a number of times. And I think I’m very—well, I don’t think, I know—I’m very proud of our record of beating him, of forcing him to restore the canceled registrations of thousands, of compelling his office to do the right thing when it comes to voter registration. But also, I think it’s a challenging conversation to have, both with Secretary Kemp and with Lieutenant Governor Cagle, because rather than focusing on how we move the state forward, they have both focused, unfortunately, on this quieter form of bigotry, of how they want to harm communities and hold us back

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Stacey Abrams speaking on Democracy Now! about her opponent, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Georgia Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle. I also wanted to turn to the Republican Senator David Perdue of Georgia, who was captured on video Saturday as he snatched a cellphone out of the hands of a constituent who asked about Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp, who Perdue was stumping for. Senator Perdue was on the campus of Georgia Tech in Atlanta when a student tried to ask him about his endorsement.

STUDENT: Hey, so, how can you endorse a candidate that’s going to—

SEN. DAVID PURDUE: No, I’m not doing that. I’m not doing it.

STUDENT: You stole my property. You stole my property. Give me my phone back, Senator. Give me my—

SEN. DAVID PURDUE: All right, you wanted a picture? You wanted a picture? I’m going to give it to you.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Perdue returned the phone after the student demanded it back. On Sunday, Perdue’s office called the incident a misunderstanding, saying the senator thought the student wanted to take a selfie with him. Professor Anderson, if you could comment on this? And as we wrap up this discussion about Georgia, who is voting right now? I mean, in some states, there’s no voting taking place, but what’s happening in Georgia?

CAROL ANDERSON: So, first, on Senator Perdue. You know, remember, Senator Perdue is the one who opened one of those Christian breakfasts by praying for Obama’s death, by saying, you know, “May your life be ended short—” You know, quoting a psalms. And, you know, “May your wife be left a widow and your children homeless and beggards.” So, this is Senator David Perdue.

And Stacey Abrams is actually right that the language that we’re getting from Brian Kemp and Casey Cagle has been the language of fear, has been the language of stoking racial animosity, racial anxiety and bigotry. And so, they’re selling fear as their component for why they should be in office.

And so, what we’re seeing right now is that we have early voting going on. And I’m not sure how brisk it has been yet, but I know that the grassroots organizations have been very active in getting people registered to vote, getting people out to vote. And because Stacey Abrams has a message of hope, has a message of how do we build Georgia for all of us, that is in fact stoking the fear on the side of the Republicans, because the demographics are changing so much in Georgia that the vote for African Americans, Asians and Latinos has to be stuffed down, because the message that Brian Kemp and the Republicans are bringing aren’t messages that resonate with that population, because those populations are in fact targeted by their message.

AMY GOODMAN: Carol Anderson, chair of the African American Studies Department at Emory University, author of, well, most recently, One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy. We’ll be back with her and other guests in a moment.