Georgia Voters Will Face the Question of Democracy or Identity

Georgia Republicans went to the polls yesterday in a runoff election to determine their nominee in November’s race for governor. Trump-endorsed candidate Brian Kemp trounced Casey Cagle, who had been supported by Georgia’s current governor Nathan Deal. You might remember Kemp as the guy who pointed a shotgun at the young man who wanted to date his daughter in a campaign ad. He staked his claim on being the politically incorrect candidate who, in another ad, said that he has a big pickup truck “just in case I need to round up criminal illegals.”

Brian Kemp is more than simply a Trump wannabe when it comes to guns and immigrants. Last year, as Secretary of State, he purged almost 600,000 Georgians from the voter rolls.

The cancellation of voter registration in such massive numbers raises concerns especially because the Secretary of State’s office used voters’ lack of electoral participation as justification for the move. Under the National Voter Registration Act and Help America Vote Act, using non-voting as a basis to purge registered voters from the rolls is prohibited.

In the summer of 2016, when the Obama administration’s primary concern about Russia’s cyber attacks was that they would hack into state voting systems, former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson held a conference call with state officials to offer them federal assistance in securing their systems. Kemp saw it as a Democratic plot to interfere in the election and denied the facts about what Russia was up to.

Brian Kemp, the Republican secretary of state of Georgia, used the call to denounce Johnson’s proposal as an assault on state rights. “I think it was a politically calculated move by the previous administration,” Kemp said in a recent interview, adding that he remains unconvinced that Russia waged a campaign to disrupt the 2016 race. “I don’t necessarily believe that,” he said.

Kemp also has a history with his opponent in November, Stacey Abrams. She founded an organization called the New Georgia Project, whose goal was to increase voter registration in the state. Those efforts became a target for the then-Secretary of State.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp—a Republican—said his office was investigating allegations of voter fraud from the New Georgia Project, following complaints about voter applications submitted by the group. To that end, Kemp has issued subpoenas to the group and its parent organization, Third Sector Development…

To Abrams, this has less to do with protecting the process and more to do with suppressing the registration effort. After all, she notes, Georgia law “requires that we turn in all application forms we collect, regardless of concerns over validity.” It’s the job of the secretary of state, she says, to determine the status of the applications. “We do not get to make the decisions about whether or not a form is valid or not.”

As Daniel Strauss reports, this contest “will put before Georgia voters one the sharpest contrasts of any major campaign in the country this fall.” Abrams is running as an unapologetic liberal who embraces the idea that running to be the country’s first African American female governor is a strength, not a liability. As Jamil Smith noted, she has a strategy.

“My approach is this,” Abrams says. “I’m not going to spend a disproportionate share of our resources trying to convert Republican-leaning voters when we can invest in lifting up the voices of those who share our values. Because here’s the thing: I think our values are the right ones. And I think these values that are shared actually are going to be victorious on their own.”

But anyone who suggests that Abrams will implement that strategy in a way that is disrespectful of white working class Georgians hasn’t been paying attention and is simply buying into an outdated narrative. Here’s what Abrams said on the night of her primary victory:

We are writing the next chapter of Georgia’s history where no one is unseen, no one is unheard and no one is uninspired. We are writing a history of Georgia where we prosper together…For the journey that lies ahead, we need every voice in our party and every independent thinker in the state of Georgia…That is why we are here to ensure that all Georgians, from farmers in Montezuma to mill workers in Dalton, know that we value them. So that educators in Sparta and airport workers in College Park know that we see their efforts. So that former prisoners across our state who are working towards more know that we believe in their redemption.

What this race comes down to is that voters in a southern confederate state that is trending purple will be the first to weigh in on whether democracy takes precedence over identity. Kemp’s attempt to fear monger about immigrants and suppress the vote (primarily of low income people of color) will go up against the small “d” democratic ideal that all (wo)men are created equal and are welcome participants in a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.