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Election 2018 Profiles: Who is Brian Kemp (R-GA)?

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Brian Kemp is currently Georgia’s Secretary of State and the Republican candidate for governor.  He has spent his time as Secretary of State making it more difficult to vote and is one of the worst anti-immigrant candidates running in the 2018 midterms. Fully embracing the divide and distract strategy promoted by Donald Trump and Stephen Miller, Kemp has made anti-immigrant fear-mongering central to his gubernatorial bid. Kemp’s efforts to suppress the vote have also been a central dynamic in a race that has drawn national attention.

Kemp’s aggressive anti-immigrant gubernatorial campaign

In a year where dozens of Republicans nationwide are running hateful and racist attack ads, Kemp has drawn national attention for going above and beyond. During the primary, Kemp ran a now-infamous ad featuring a truck, “just in case in need to round up criminal illegals and take them home myself”. He even seemed to realize that his statement was highly offensive, adding in the ad, “yup, I just said that.”

Kemp’s ugly ads ran from the primary into the general election campaign. Kemp’s ads have politicized tragic deaths to demonize whole groups of people, attacked safe cities, promoted his anti-immigrant platform (which would force local law enforcement to double as immigration agents), compared immigrants to terrorists, made false claims about immigrants voting, lied about his opponent — Democrat Stacy Abrams’ — positions, and treated education for undocumented students as a bad thing.

(Kemp’s anti-immigrant attacks don’t even make strategic sense. As former chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration Chuck Rosenberg wrote: “incendiary attacks on MS-13 and immigrants are making it harder to fight crime.”

Kemp has not been shy about his anti-Muslim views either. He willingly took a photograph with James Stachowiak, a notorious extremist wearing a clearly offensive and Islamaphobic t-shirt. Stachowiak had previously threated Muslims and Black Lives Matter activists, and advocating shooting black women and children in the back. The Council on America-Islamic Relations has called on Kemp to apologize for the photo, but as of this writing, he has not.   

Voter suppression

Besides using the nonexistent threat of undocumented immigrants voting to attack his opponent in the governor’s race, Kemp has deployed the same argument to erect new barriers to the ballot box. Though Kemp has claimed his measures have been put up to prevent voter fraud and protect election integrity, the overwhelming consensus from election experts and studies is that voter fraud is extremely rare to the point of insignificance, and strict voter ID efforts harm much more than they help. In Kemp’s case, his efforts to restrict the vote in his capacity as Secretary of State seems to present a clear conflict of interest with his presence on this fall’s ballot.

Kemp’s calls of ballot integrity are even more farcical in light of the fact that in 2015, his office inadvertently disclosed the Social Security numbers and other private information of more than 6 million registered voters. Moreover, Kemp refused help from the FBI to secure the election after he was alerted to possible election hacking in November 2016. After repeated alerts from computer security firms that Georgia’s voting rolls and social security numbers were still accessible, a lawsuit in 2017 revealed that Georgia had wiped all the data from the 2016 election, making it impossible to further check for irregularities.

Instead of securing the voting rolls and elections from real threats, Kemp has focused on barriers and purges that have been racially discriminatory in their effect. As Secretary of State, Kemp requested a change to the federal registration form to require documentary proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. Though he claimed this would prevent the nearly-nonexistent problem of noncitizens voting, the implementation of this requirement places a racially disproportionate burden on voters. Fortunately, the courts blocked the change and implementation of a similar law in Kansas was found unconstitutional.

Shortly after becoming Secretary of State in 2011, Kemp ushered in an “exact match” rule. This program required everything on a voter registration to match perfectly with other state records for a person to be fully registered to vote, including each letter and hyphen. From July 2013 to July 2016, Kemp — using this rule — canceled or made pending 35,000 voter registrations, of which some 64 percent came from African Americans. The practice was stopped after Kemp settled a lawsuit challenging the discriminatory nature of the law in February 2017.

But in April of that year, the Georgia legislature resurrected a new version of the rule.  After the new law took effect, Kemp held up 53,000 registrations, 70 percent of whom represented African Americans. These pending registrations are on top of the nearly 670,000 registrations he canceled in 2017 alone and the over 1.4 million voter registrations he has purged since 2012. That’s a twofold increase in cancellations from 2008 to 2012.

After early voting started in the 2018 midterms, voters who were voting absentee faced addition issues. Election officials were throwing out ballots unless everything exactly matched the country records, including if they thought the signature was not an exact match. Gwinnett County, the second most populous county in Georgia with a population that is 60 percent non-white, had the highest rejection rate of the of absentee ballots.  But after multiple lawsuits, a  judge placed an immediate injunction on the practice on October 25. The injunction forces Georgian officials to take additional steps to notify individuals whose ballots are marked for rejection and allow time for the voter to fix their ballot. With the midterms around the corner, however, it is not clear that all of these tens of thousands of voters will have an opportunity to do so.

Additionally, some of the voters who did make it to the polls have seen irregularities with Georgia’s digital voting machines. On October 24, the NAACP filed a complaint against Kemp after hearing from voters who said the voting machines chose Kemp when they attempted to vote for Abrams. The NAACP also said some of the machines had shown that a ballot was cast before that person actually voted.

All the questions surrounding Kemp even led President Jimmy Carter, a fellow Georgian, to ask Kemp to resign as Secretary of State and hand the responsibility of overseeing the governor’s election to a neutral authority. In a letter to Kemp, Carter wrote, “popular confidence is threatened not only by the undeniable racial discrimination of the past and the serious questions that the federal courts have raised about the security of Georgia’s voting machines, but also because you are now overseeing the election in which you are a candidate.” As of this writing, Kemp has balked any request to step down.