Federal judges have been a thorn in the side of Brian Kemp.
The Friday before the midterm elections, U.S. District Judge Eleanor L. Ross ruled that the Georgia secretary of state’s controversial “exact match” voting law was discriminatory, ordering him to change it after expressing “grave concerns” about the “differential treatment inflicted on a group of individuals who are predominantly minorities.” As expected, Kemp’s gubernatorial race the following Tuesday against Democrat Stacey Abrams was too close to call, and as officials continue to sort through provisional ballots and otherwise unaccounted for votes, more federal judges have come down on the embattled Republican with a taste for voter suppression.
On Monday night, U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg ordered the certification of the election’s results be delayed, citing concerns over how Kemp managed the election as Georgia’s secretary of state, a position from which he has since resigned. Less than 24 hours later, U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May ruled that Gwinnett County violated the Civili Rights Act in invalidating absentee ballots based on an omitted or incorrect birth year. Those ballots must now be counted.
BREAKING: We won! Federal court finds that Gwinnett County’s mass rejection of absentee ballots based on an omitted or incorrect birth year violates the Civil Rights Act. These ballots MUST be counted! Win for voters in Georgia whose votes and voices matter! @LawyersComm pic.twitter.com/5lCCInu299
— Kristen Clarke ☎️866-OUR-VOTE (@KristenClarkeJD) November 13, 2018
Totenberg’s ruling on Monday night didn’t come a moment too soon. Robyn Crittenden, the Republican who replaced Kemp as secretary of state, issued a statement last week clarifying that all counties must certify their election results by 5 p.m. on Tuesday. She was expected to certify the state-wide results on Wednesday. Totenberg’s ruling prevents Crittenden from certifying the results until 5 p.m. on Friday, and also calls for the state to set up a way for people who cast provisional ballots to check in on the status of their vote. Totenberg expressed concern over Crittenden’s rush to certify the election, which she wrote “appears to suggest the secretary’s foregoing of its responsibility to confirm the accuracy of the results prior to final certification, including the assessment of whether serious provisional balloting count issues have been consistently and properly handled.”
As of Monday night, Abrams trailed Kemp by just under 60,000 votes. Abrams would need to bring in additional 19,000 votes to ensure a recount, and 21,000 to trigger a December 4th runoff, which state law requires if no candidate can lock in at least 50 percent of the vote. Kemp is currently hovering around 50.3 percent. The secretary of state’s office has claimed that 21,000 provisional votes were cast in the election, although Abrams believes the number is closer to 30,000.
Despite the controversy, Kemp has declared victory, resigning as secretary of state last Friday to focus on transitioning into his new life in the Governor’s Mansion. His campaign has alleged that there are not enough outstanding votes for Abrams to make up the discrepancy. Though Totenberg’s ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by Common Cause prior to the election, Abrams has been aggressive in her efforts to ensure that every provisional ballot is accounted for and tallied. On Monday, her campaign filed a lawsuit asking for the certification process to be delayed, and for the state to stop rejecting provisional ballots with minor efforts.
The Kemp campaign has been critical of Abrams and the organizations who have failed lawsuits related to the provisional ballots. “It’s incredibly shameful that liberal lawyers are doubling down on lawsuits desperately trying to create more votes for Stacey Abrams,” campaign spokesman Ryan Mahoney said in a statement. “They don’t want to win this election. They are trying to steal it.”
It’s Kemp, though, who throughout the campaign abused his position as secretary of state to suppress the votes of Georgians, predominantly those of minorities. During his tenure as secretary of state, he improperly purged the registrations of hundreds of thousands of voters, and his “exact match” policy, which holds that a voter’s registration card perfectly mirror other identification documents, has been ruled as restrictive to voting rights. In October, Rolling Stone obtained audio of Kemp expressing concern over Georgians exercising their right to vote. On Election Day, the state was plagued by polling issues in, you guess it, predominantly minority precincts.
Though Kemp has followed Trump’s lead in alleging foul play, as is the case in Florida, there is no evidence anything resembling voter fraud is taking place in Georgia. Abrams and the organizations that have challenged the state’s handling of the election simply want all the votes to be counted. Though Monday night’s ruling should help their cause, the damage Kemp has inflicted on democracy in Georgia may still be too difficult to overcome. “Each of these tens of thousands of ballots represents the voice of a Georgian voter,” Abrams’ campaign said in the lawsuit it filed on Monday. “Now, those voices are at risk of not being heard.”
This post has been updated.