ICYMI: Kemp Took Steps to Dramatically Lower Voter Turnout as Secretary of State

September 26, 2022

A Federal Judge Found That Kemp Imposed a “Severe Burden” on Georgia Voters

A new report from ProPublica highlighted the extent to which Republicans have worked to block Americans from voting, including then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp. The piece covered some of the most extreme anti-voter actions Kemp took during his tenure as Secretary of State, including launching an investigation into a Black city commissioner for helping a first-time voter understand how to use a voting machine. She was later acquitted of all charges. Kemp’s actions as Secretary of State were so restrictive that a federal judge ruled he was placing a “severe burden” on Georgia voters.

While Kemp was overseeing Georgia elections as Secretary of State, he took actions that impacted the ability of voters of color to cast a ballot:

  • After encouragement from Kemp to close voting locations, Georgia counties closed higher percentages of voting locations than any other state. Black Georgians made up a significant percentage of the population in several of the top counties where polls were closed.
  • Kemp oversaw the cancellation of more than 1.4 million voter registrations, and low-income and minority Georgians were most likely to be impacted.
  • Kemp put 53,000 voter registrations on hold shortly before the 2018 election under the controversial “exact match” policy, and nearly 70% were Black voters.

In Georgia’s final GOP gubernatorial primary debate in 2022, Kemp revealed that his frustration with the “results” of the 2020 election was the driving force behind SB 202, one of the most egregious voter suppression laws in the country which Kemp signed in 2021.

Kemp offered testimony in a recent federal voting rights trial where he attempted to defend past comments voicing concerns about Democrats’ efforts “registering all these minority voters” and about a high number of Democratic absentee ballot requests, the majority of which were from voters of color.

More on Brian Kemp’s anti-voter efforts — ProPublica: The Fight Against an Age-Old Effort to Block Americans From Voting

  • For all of the recent uproar over voting rights, little attention has been paid to one of the most sustained and brazen suppression campaigns in America: the effort to block help at the voting booth for people who struggle to read — a group that amounts to about 48 million Americans, or more than a fifth of the adult population. ProPublica analyzed the voter turnout in 3,000 counties and found that those with lower estimated literacy rates, on average, had lower turnout.
  • Conservative politicians have long used harsh tactics against voters who can’t read — poor, often Black and Latino Americans who have been failed by the U.S. education system and who conservatives feared would vote for liberal candidates. Some states have required voters who needed help to sign an affidavit explaining why they need assistance; some have prevented voters who couldn’t read from bringing sample ballots to the polls and limited the number of voters that a volunteer could help read a ballot. Time and again, federal courts have struck down such restrictions as illegal and unconstitutional. Inevitably, states just create more.
  • Over the last two years, the myth of election fraud, supercharged by former President Donald Trump in the wake of his 2020 loss, has fueled a barrage of new restrictions. While they do not all target voters who struggle to read, they make it especially challenging for voters with low literacy skills to get help casting ballots.
  • Last year, Georgia passed a law limiting who can return or even touch a completed absentee ballot.
  • In 2012, the chairman of Coffee County’s board of elections filed a complaint against Coley-Pearson and three other residents, alleging that they’d assisted voters who didn’t legally qualify for help. Georgia law only allows voters to receive assistance if they are disabled or cannot read English. The secretary of state’s office, then under Kemp’s leadership, initiated an investigation.
  • The investigation found that Coley-Pearson and the other volunteers neglected to verify whether some voters qualified for help and incorrectly filled out forms indicating why voters needed assistance. It also found that election workers failed to include required information on many forms and turned them in without making sure they were accurate.
  • Testifying at a 2016 hearing chaired by Kemp, Coley-Pearson maintained that she hadn’t broken any laws. In response to a poll worker’s claim that she’d touched the voting machine, Coley-Pearson said she’d merely accompanied voters who had requested her assistance and stood by to answer questions about the process or read names on the ballot. She said she followed the instructions of the poll workers, signing forms when directed.
  • The state election board chose not to recommend her case for criminal prosecution, but a local district attorney’s office prosecuted her anyway, which made national headlines in BuzzFeed. The trial ended with a hung jury. One of two Black people on the jury told a local reporter that she was the only holdout; everyone else voted to find Coley-Pearson guilty. She was tried again in a nearby county and, after about 20 minutes of deliberations, the new jury acquitted her of all charges.
  • A similar law in Georgia suspended voter registration applications when the information on the form didn’t exactly match a driver’s license or social security record. (If voters didn’t correct the information within 26 months, Georgia could cancel their registrations.) When then-Secretary of State Kemp ran for governor against Stacey Abrams in 2018, his office suspended the applications of an estimated 53,000 voters, most of them Black, due to these discrepancies. Kemp won the election by about 55,000 votes.
  • A federal judge ordered Georgia to ease the restrictive program, calling it a “severe burden” on some voters. Politicians, academics and advocates have accused Kemp of voter suppression not only for suspending registration applications over minor discrepancies, but also for purging tens of thousands of infrequent voters from the rolls — a more aggressive effort than is made in other states.


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