GOP State Officials Are the Real Threat to Democracy

Georgia, voter suppression, Brian Kemp
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor court of law stays these couriers from their appointed rounds. Photo credit: DonkeyHotey / WhoWhatWhy (CC BY-SA 2.0) See complete attribution below.

Defying the democratic principles on which the United States was founded, a group of people is continuously trying to illegally influence the outcome of US elections. More must be done to stop them.

No, we’re not talking about undocumented immigrants who allegedly vote in huge numbers. We’re also not talking about people casting multiple ballots in person on Election Day. There is simply no proof that either of those things have ever happened in large numbers.

However, there is a preponderance of evidence that shows there is a group engaged in a systematic and sustained assault on the voting rights of Americans: Republican state officials.

We have extensively covered the various tactics of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, whose main mission seems to be ensuring that as many non-Republicans as possible are denied the right to vote. But he is far from alone.

Today we want to focus on one of Kobach’s partners in crime, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

In 2004, George W. Bush won the Peach State with a comfortable margin of 16.6%. Last year, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by barely 5%. The reason for the shrinking gap is simple: Georgia is becoming more diverse. As a result, the GOP’s stranglehold on the state is weakening.

That’s why Georgia Republicans, led by Kemp, are turning to a strategy that has been tried and tested in other southern states: voter suppression.

For example, ahead of the highly anticipated special election in Georgia’s 6th congressional district in June, Kemp tried to shut down voter registration before a court overruled him.

Most recently, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) threatened to sue Kemp over a statewide campaign that could confuse voters and make them believe they are no longer eligible to cast a ballot.

In one county alone, officials sent letters to tens of thousands of Georgians who had recently moved within that county and informed them that it was their responsibility to update their voter registration information. A failure to do so within 30 days would result in their voter status being changed to “inactive.”

The ACLU argues this language is confusing, in particular to less educated voters. While being “inactive” would still allow people to vote, this isn’t explained in the letter and the wording could lead some people to believe that they would have to take certain steps to be allowed to cast a ballot.

What makes the campaign even more curious is that it appears to be unlawful and completely unnecessary. The ACLU alleges that the letter violates federal and Georgia law because the burden of updating the records of a voter who moves within a county is on the state.

Earlier this year, WhoWhatWhy reported on one of Kemp’s other schemes. Taking advantage of a law ostensibly meant to clean up voter rolls, he put in place rules that required the names of voters to precisely match the names in other state databases.

However, since some of these systems cannot recognize certain characters much more common among minorities than whites, a disproportionate number of Hispanics and African-Americans were kicked off the rolls. After the NAACP sued and won, the state had to add tens of thousands of voters back to the rolls.

On the one hand, it could be argued that it is nice to see justice prevail. Kobach has also suffered a string of defeats in the courts. The same is true for others trying to suppress the vote across the country.

However, it takes time for lawsuits to be resolved. That means that the illegal schemes cooked up by Kobach, Kemp and their ilk can often yield results for months if not years before they are fully litigated.

And, with the Department of Justice under Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions unlikely to intervene on behalf of voters, that burden falls on groups like the ACLU and the NAACP. However, while taxpayers in Kansas and Georgia foot the bill for lawsuits triggered by the actions of their secretaries of state, they drain the resources of pro-democracy groups.

All of this means that, in a way, the vote suppressors win even when they are defeated in court.

The only real loser is democracy.

The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Brian Kemp caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), letter carrier (Elvert Barnes / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), neighborhood (North Charleston / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), mailboxes (Holden Karau / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), crows 1 (Stephen Dann / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), crows 2 (Stephen Dann / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), Georgia peach (sarahee / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0) and dog (Official U.S. Navy Page / Flickr).

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