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Opinion Republicans may be about to steal an election in Georgia

Stacey Abrams, Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia. (Erik S. Lesser/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Correction: An earlier version of this blog post misstated the location of Shelby County, Ala. This version has been updated.

It isn’t often you get to watch an election being stolen in real time, but that might be what is happening right now in Georgia.

When it comes to the nationwide, comprehensive, carefully planned Republican effort to suppress the votes of people who are likely to vote Democratic, particularly racial minorities, there is a menu of techniques Republicans employ — voter ID laws, voter purges, limiting early voting, closing polling places in heavily minority neighborhoods, and racial and partisan gerrymandering.

But what Brian Kemp is doing right now is truly unique.

Kemp, the Republican nominee for governor, is locked in an extremely tight race with Democrat Stacey Abrams. He also happens to be the secretary of state, the official in charge of all elections in Georgia. You might expect him to step down or recuse himself from overseeing his own election in the interest of fairness and public confidence that the fix is not in, but that’s not how Republicans do things. Kemp isn’t just overseeing the process, he’s apparently also doing everything he can to keep as many Democrats as possible from the polls in November.

Ben Nadler reports:

Two main policies overseen by Kemp have drawn criticism and legal challenges: Georgia’s “exact match” registration verification process and the mass cancellation of inactive voter registrations.
According to records obtained from Kemp’s office through a public records request, [Marsha] Appling-Nunez’s application —like many of the 53,000 registrations on hold with Kemp’s office — was flagged because it ran afoul of the state’s “exact match” verification process.
Under the policy, information on voter applications must precisely match information on file with the Georgia Department of Driver Services or the Social Security Administration. Election officials can place non-matching applications on hold.
An application could be held because of an entry error or a dropped hyphen in a last name, for example.
Appling-Nunez says she never saw any notice from Kemp’s office indicating a problem with her application.
An analysis of the records obtained by The Associated Press reveals racial disparity in the process. Georgia’s population is approximately 32 percent black, according to the U.S. Census, but the list of voter registrations on hold with Kemp’s office is nearly 70 percent black.

Who could have predicted such a thing would happen!

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We know who: the Republicans in the state legislature who passed the law and the Republican who’s implementing it. In fact, they passed their “exact match” law in 2017 after Kemp settled a lawsuit charging that a previous version of “exact match” was racially discriminatory. Kemp agreed to stop using it, but then the Republican-led legislature stepped in and wrote a new version of it into law so that the suppression could continue.

President Trump has irreversibly changed the Republican Party. The upheaval might seem unusual, but political transformations crop up throughout U.S. history. (Video: Adriana Usero, Danielle Kunitz, Robert Gebelhoff/The Washington Post)

There’s one more interesting twist to this story. How does Kemp justify his racially discriminatory policy? He says the fact that so many black voters are getting their registrations put on hold is the fault of the New Georgia Project, which seeks to register voters and was founded five years ago by none other than Stacey Abrams. The New Georgia Project, Kemp’s office claims, “did not adequately train canvassers to ensure legible, complete forms.” And sure, black people are getting their registrations held up at much higher rates, but that’s just because of “the higher usage of one method of registration among one particular demographic group.”

Kemp also says that this whole thing is being stirred up by “outside agitators,” which just happens to be the same name segregationists called those campaigning for civil rights during the Jim Crow era. You can be sure that no one in Georgia misunderstands the reference.

We have to keep saying this: Suppressing the votes of Democrats is the whole point of these laws and procedures. Republicans claim to worry about “voter fraud,” and journalists dutifully repeat those claims because when one party says something over and over, you’re supposed to treat it as though it is serious. But everyone knows it’s nonsense. Voter fraud is almost nonexistent, and Republicans aren’t motivated by some deeply held abstract principle about the integrity of elections that they apply whether it helps them or not. It’s just a lie.

It’s also an example of how Republicans, who complain all the time about the stifling hand of big government, use their power to weaponize bureaucracy against people they don’t like. They impose “work requirements” on programs such as Medicaid, forcing recipients to navigate a bureaucratic maze in order to maintain their benefits — and if you make a mistake on a form, you can lose your health insurance. Did someone input an “i” in your name when it’s actually an “l”? Sorry, we’re suspending your registration. Haven’t voted in a couple of elections? We’re purging you from the rolls.

The final and perhaps cruelest piece of this puzzle is that Republicans have closed off the legal avenues for voters to challenge these discriminatory policies. In 2013, the Republican majority on the Supreme Court eviscerated the Voting Rights Act, in a case involving Shelby County, Ala. In a bit of head-spinning illogic, Chief Justice G. Roberts Jr. wrote that “largely because of the Voting Rights Act,” racial discrimination in voting had been greatly reduced, and therefore it was time to gut the Voting Rights Act. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her dissent, destroying the Voting Rights Act because it had succeeded in limiting discrimination was “like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” Because of the Shelby County v. Holder decision, legal challenges to Kemp’s actions are unlikely to succeed.

So we may wind up in Georgia with the same situation we’ve seen over and over again. Republicans gain power, then enact a series of policies and laws to make it harder for Democrats to vote. Democrats undertake a herculean effort to register and turn out voters, but when subsequent elections are extremely close, it turns out that the Republican vote suppression efforts were enough to make the difference.

That could well happen in Georgia, where we could see the race decided by a few thousand votes and tens of thousands of legitimate voters kept from the polls. Abrams has based her strategy on registering and turning out as many Democratic voters as possible, including those who haven’t participated before. Kemp’s strategy involves being the most troglodytic Trumpite he can be — and using the powers of his office to put just enough of a thumb on the scale to ensure his victory.

If Kemp wins, Republicans around the country will celebrate it as further proof of the efficacy of their vote suppression strategy. And knowing that the Supreme Court is likely to endorse whatever new suppression tactics they come up with, they’ll move even more aggressively to restrict access to the ballot.

Read more:

The Post’s View: The GOP finds yet another way to suppress the vote

Paul Waldman: Kavanaugh and the court’s conservatives will accelerate the war on voting

Jonathan Capehart: Stacey Abrams explains why ‘politicians are like 15-year-old girls’

Paul Waldman: Supreme Court delivers to the GOP a victory in the war on voting

Letters to the Editor: Memo to all Democrats: Copy Stacey Abrams