The campaigns of Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams on Wednesday accused each other of trying to “steal” the election as the Georgia governor’s race remained unsettled, with both sides awaiting court decisions on thousands of uncounted ballots.
Kemp, a Republican whose lead has shrunk a bit each day since the Nov. 6 election, continued to demand that Democratic candidate Abrams concede, arguing that there are not enough outstanding votes for her to force a runoff.
“Stacey Abrams and her radical backers will stop at nothing to undermine democracy and attempt to steal this election to be Georgia's next governor,” Kemp spokesman Cody Hall said in a news release.
Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’s campaign manager, accused Kemp, the former secretary of state, of using that office “as a taxpayer-funded arm of his campaign. … That is such an egregious breach of public trust and an egregious breach of power and straight-up corruption.”
Abrams, the former Democratic leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, has declined to concede. On Wednesday, the campaign said Abrams needed more than 17,700 additional votes to force a runoff or more than 15,400 to force a recount. The secretary of state could certify the results Friday.
Late Wednesday, the Abrams campaign won a partial victory in federal court, when U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones ruled that the state’s 159 counties must accept absentee ballots with minor discrepancies. It was immediately unclear how many votes would be affected by the ruling.
Jones denied a request in the lawsuit filed Monday by the campaign and the Democratic Party of Georgia that would have required counties to accept provisional ballots cast by voters in counties where they did not live. The Abrams campaign argued that thousands of voters who showed up at the polls on election day were forced to use provisional ballots because elections officials had not updated their voter files.
Hall, in his statement, accused Abrams of pursuing “dangerous lawsuits that attempt to rewrite election law, count illegal votes and create new ones.”
Groh-Wargo joined several lawmakers at the state Capitol on Wednesday for a news conference, during which speakers called on the new secretary of state, Robyn A. Crittenden, to make sure that every vote is counted. She said if Kemp was “secure … in his determination that he is the winner,” then he would not object to efforts to make sure that votes cast are counted.
Abrams, who called Kemp the “architect of voter suppression,” blasted him for refusing to resign as the state’s top elections official while he ran for governor. Kemp was harshly criticized by voting rights advocates for restrictive laws and policies that rejected tens of thousands of voter registrations and purged more than a million from the voting rolls. Several of those laws and policies were stopped by the courts because they were found to be in violation of the federal Voting Rights Acts.
“If Stacey Abrams doesn’t win in Georgia, they stole it,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said during the National Action Network’s legislative and policy conference Wednesday in Washington.
Kemp’s lead has gone from about 75,000 votes on Election Day to just under 55,000, out of more than 3.9 million ballots cast. He currently has 50.23 percent of the vote to 48.83 percent for Abrams. Libertarian candidate Ted Metz has 0.95 percent of the vote.
Kemp declared victory last Thursday and has since issued frequent vote tallies, culled from the secretary of state’s website, to show that he remains ahead. In one such calculation, he said that even if Abrams were to get all of the outstanding provisional votes, he would still end up with the required 50.1 percent to win.
The Abrams campaign has disputed the office’s report that 21,190 provisional ballots were issued. Groh-Wargo has said that more than 26,000 ballots were issued, based on information the campaign has collected from individual counties.
Nearly 1.5 million more voters cast ballots in last week’s gubernatorial race than in 2014. Voters in large precincts in the Atlanta suburbs faced hours-long waits caused by too few or malfunctioning voting machines. Voters also reported their names not being on voting rolls and poll workers giving inaccurate information about whether they could use provisional ballots.
Tuesday was the official deadline for Georgia’s 159 counties to certify their results, and the secretary of state’s office had planned to certify the results on Wednesday.
But on Monday, a federal judge barred the secretary of state from certifying until Friday, siding with advocates who said voters were not given enough time and information on how to address problems with their provisional ballots. On Tuesday, a judge ordered Gwinnett County to review rejected absentee ballots on which the voters' birth years were missing or incorrect.
Gwinnett County, a suburb of Atlanta, is of particular interest in the race for the 7th Congressional District, where Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux trailed Republican Rob Woodall by 533 votes as of Wednesday afternoon.