This story has been updated.
Activist groups in Georgia are calling on Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp to step down as secretary of state, a post that includes responsibility for overseeing the state’s elections.
Kemp, through his campaign spokesman, has said he will not give up the job that he has held since 2010, noting that other elected officials have not quit their elected posts while running for higher offices. He is running against Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams, a former state lawmaker who has clashed with Kemp in the past over her efforts to register voters.
The race will be one of the most closely watched of the midterms, a test of Trump’s political popularity and a chance for Abrams to make history as the nation’s first black female governor.
Two groups — the Georgia Alliance for Social Justice and Resist Trump Tuesdays — have planned a rally for Wednesday afternoon to call for Kemp to resign. “It is ethically wrong for a politician to oversee the campaign he is a candidate in,” reads an online petition launched by the groups.
The Georgia NAACP also has called on Kemp to resign after a local television station reported that an app for the office of the secretary of state included links to Web pages associated with his campaign. Kemp has since removed those links, but apparently only for newer versions of the app. A reader in Athens, Ga., contacted The Post Wednesday to say that the version of the app on his iPhone still has links to Kemp’s campaign accounts on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
Common Cause Georgia issued a statement this week urging him to leave his position.
Sara Henderson, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, said the incident with the app demonstrates the ethical concerns about Kemp remaining in the position. “You have a candidate for governor who is going to be certifying his own election,” Henderson said in an interview.
The state’s constitution does not require Kemp to step down. But, she and others have noted, past secretaries of state have resigned when they decided to pursue other offices, including former senator Max Cleland (D) and Rep. Karen Handel (R).
Kemp was appointed to complete Handel’s term in 2010, when she gave up the position to run for governor. He subsequently won a full term later that year and was reelected in 2014.
Kemp’s spokesman, Ryan Mahoney, said via email that the GOP gubernatorial nominee has no plans to step down. He cited several elected officials, both Democrats and Republicans, who did not vacate their offices to run for governor. The list included Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, whom Kemp routed in a runoff last month after being endorsed by President Trump. “There’s certainly not a precedent,” Mahoney wrote.
Mahoney also said there was no conflict of interest in 2014, when Kemp ran for reelection as secretary of state, and there is no cause for concern this year. “Elections are administered on the local level in Georgia. Hardworking Georgians in all 159 counties ensure secure, accessible, and fair voting,” he wrote.
The website for the Georgia secretary of state reads: “The Elections Division of the Secretary of State’s Office organizes and oversees all election activity, including voter registration, municipal, state, county, and federal elections.” It further states that the office is “responsible for certification of election results as well as certifying the qualification of candidates and preparation of ballots and election forms and materials.”
The Democratic Party of Georgia also issued a statement calling for Kemp to resign and criticizing him for “earning a full-time salary while concurrently running for Governor and working in the Secretary of State’s office part time — if that.” The party’s press release also quotes Cleland, who was secretary of state from 1983 to 1996, urging Kemp to step aside “like I did when I ran for U.S. Senate.”
Abrams’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
In 2014, Abrams launched a group called the New Georgia Project, aimed at registering and engaging the state’s growing population of young and minority voters. She says the group has submitted more than 200,000 voter registration forms. But less than that number have been added to the rolls because of policies, which have disqualified potential voters because of minor discrepancies or arbitrary decisions to stop processing applications because of backlogs.
Kemp accused the New Georgia Project of fraud, and the group countersued, accusing the secretary of state of voter suppression. The New Georgia Project and other groups have continued to go to court to fight policies such as purging large numbers of infrequent voters.
Kemp also has been criticized for data breaches on his watch, including the release of voters’ personal information, and revelations that the state’s elections system was wide open to hacking. Groups have gone to court to demand that the state retire its outdated electronic voting machines that lack a paper trail to verify.
Correction: The Georgia Alliance for Social Justice and Resist Trump Tuesdays have posted an online petition calling for Brian Kemp to resign as secretary of state. An earlier version of this story indicated that Common Cause Georgia had posted the petition.