Those fears may be being validated in Georgia, where a tight governor’s race is pitting the current Republican secretary of state, Brian Kemp, against Democrat Stacey Abrams, who would be the first black woman to govern a state in American history.
The Associated Press reported Monday that Kemp is holding 53,000 registration applications because they were flagged by the state’s “exact match” system. The state legislature, which the Republicans control, introduced the system last year to make the process for validating registrations stricter and to curtail voter fraud, which is not a significant problem in Georgia or anywhere else in the United States.
For example, the “exact match” system would put someone named Beyoncé Knowles-Carter on the “pending” registration list if her voting application said Beyoncé Knowles Carter. Critics of this process have noted that black and Latino voters are disproportionately affected by these systems across the country, and Georgia is proof of that. Of those 53,000 applications being held by Kemp, 70 percent of them belong to black voters.
Although many black voters are upset with Kemp specifically, no evidence has emerged that the GOP candidate is intentionally trying to block black voters from voting for his opponent. But there is proof that “exact match” systems disproportionately affect voters who have low incomes and are more willing to vote for Democrats.
Abrams’s camp isn’t hesitating to directly implicate Kemp and his motivations.
“As he has done for years, Brian Kemp is maliciously wielding the power of his office to suppress the vote for political gain and silence the voices of thousands of eligible voters — the majority of them people of color,” said Abigail Collazo, Abrams’s director of strategic communications. “This isn’t incompetence; it’s malpractice. It is no surprise that Kemp is reprising these tactics now when multiple recent polls show his race against Stacey Abrams to be a dead heat.”
But Kemp denies that those on the pending list will not be able to vote in the election. According to state law, if people on the “pending” list bring their I.D. with them to the polls, they can still vote.
However, black voters still seem concerned about being left out of the political process — an issue that has become of increasing concern in recent years.
The Supreme Court’s conservative wing significantly weakened the Voting Rights Act in 2013 when Chief Justice John 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.
Not only do many black and liberal Americans disagree that racial discrimination has been greatly reduced, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg rejected Roberts’s logic in her dissent. She wrote that gutting the Voting Rights Act because it had been successful in limiting discrimination was “like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
Tracie Justus, an English professor in Stone Mountain, Ga., said decisions like what is happening in Georgia are disheartening.
“It’s horrible. I’ve emailed and faxed his office yesterday and today expressing my dismay. This is voter suppression and election stealing right in our faces,” she said.
Sharese Reyes, an attorney in Atlanta, said the situation is a reminder of the various policies put in place by the state and federal government for centuries to make it difficult for black Americans to vote.
“It’s yet another tactic to keep certain people from voting,” she said.
Joshua Daily, a student at Clayton State University in Morrow, said he hopes this issue leads to a larger conversation about voting rights.
“The one upshot to this situation on both a state and national level is that maybe this will bring to light the fact that more legislation is needed to protect elections and voter rights, rather than relying on decency and respectable practices as we have in the past,” he said.
There has been much conversation about whether black voters will turn out during the midterm elections, because black voters are historically much less likely to vote in years when it is not a presidential election. However, this situation gets to another reason many black Americans may be less enthusiastic about voting: a belief that systems are being put in place to keep black Americans from expressing a relatively recently acquired fundamental right that so many older Americans fought for.