The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Georgia’s voter suppression problem goes much deeper than Brian Kemp

Brian Kemp, the Georgia secretary of state and Republican candidate for governor, in July.
Brian Kemp, the Georgia secretary of state and Republican candidate for governor, in July. (John Amis/AP)

THE GEORGIA governor’s race was already one of the hottest in the nation, and now a controversy has exploded around accusations of voter suppression. The Republican nominee, Brian Kemp, is Georgia’s secretary of state, and is responsible for enforcing the state’s restrictive voter laws. His opponent, Democrat Stacey Abrams, founded a voter-registration outfit concerned that Mr. Kemp’s office is slating too many names for removal from the voter rolls. Ms. Abrams has called Mr. Kemp “a remarkable architect of voter suppression.”

Mr. Kemp’s critics have many good points. Yet the real architects are the state legislators who passed the laws enabling unfair voter removal. Georgia’s restrictive law needs to change.

The issue revolves around Georgia’s “exact match” policy, which places on hold voter registrations that do not precisely mirror the information contained in the state’s Department of Driver Services database or Social Security Administration information. Given the inevitability of clerical errors, this leads to placing registrations on hold, as some 53,000 currently are. The reasons can sometimes be outrageously minor, such as a dropped hyphen. An Associated Press analysis found that African Americans make up 70 percent of would-be Georgia voters whose registrations are on hold.

Mr. Kemp’s office responds that the racial disparity is the result of Ms. Abrams’s registration drive, which targets minority citizens and uses only error-prone paper forms. Also, anyone with an on-hold registration can bring to the polls the proper identification that Georgia requires all voters to present; the registration records can be reconciled with the information on the ID, and the voter can vote.

Still, if people fail to vote in one election cycle or to contact election officials, their on-hold registration will be canceled after 26 months. If their registrations are canceled close to election day, they may not be able to vote at all. That is unreasonable and unnecessary. The state should make every effort to reconcile the records it has on hand before even placing a voter’s registration on hold, let alone canceling it. Other states have far less onerous procedures, and they have not experienced massive waves of voter fraud.

That fact is also good reason for the state to reconsider its voter ID requirements. Once again, Republicans are in the position of restricting the vote for spurious reasons. Why not try embracing democracy and persuading people to vote for you?

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Will a backlash over voter suppression help elect Abrams as governor?

Ellen Kurz: Registration is a voter-suppression tool. Let’s finally end it.

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

Paul Waldman: Republicans may be about to steal an election in Georgia