Georgia’s voting rights battle ramps up as Election Day approaches

The results of Georgia’s voting rights fight could extend beyond the state’s borders

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  • Max Blau
  • Rev. Raphael Warnock and House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, discuss the lawsuit filed against Secretary of State Brian Kemp and five Georgia counties.

Early voting begins today in a handful of counties throughout Georgia. As state residents begin to cast ballots in a historic election within national implications, Democratic leaders have stepped up attacks against Republican officials for obstructing unregistered minority voters from reaching the polls.

As CL reported on Friday, several groups including voter registration nonprofit New Georgia Project, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and the NAACP’s national and state chapters have sued Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp and five counties. They want to force the immediate processing of more than 40,000 voter registration applications submitted to local county election offices but which have yet to appear on the pending voter list or voter rolls.

Standing outside Ebenezer Baptist Church on Sunday, House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, who founded the nonprofit organization aimed at registering minority men and women, told reporters the lawsuit followed Kemp’s failure to meet with her group twice to discuss the latest status of tens of thousands of unprocessed voter applications. She blasted the secretary of state’s office for its “deeply disturbing” lack of urgency over the matter.

Ebenezer Baptist Church Senior Pastor Raphael Warnock, a frequent spokesman for NGP, doubled down on recent accusations of voter suppression and criticized Kemp’s office of already disenfranchising hundreds of Georgia voters. Rather than acting as voters’ “chief advocate,” Warnock said, Kemp had engaged in a “pattern of disingenuous activity” consistent with his entire time in office.

Abrams says the NGP lawsuit is asking a Fulton County judge to issue a writ of mandamus, a ruling that would order Kemp to process the voter applications before the election by any means necessary. She says that could force Kemp’s office to hire more election officials and provide additional resources to ensure those voters are able to cast ballots on Nov. 4. With less than a month before Election Day, plus early voting beginning today, she expects that court proceeding will move faster than most cases.

We’ve reached out to the secretary of state’s office for comment. If we hear back, we’ll post an update. Over the weekend, Kemp spokesman Jared Thomas told Politico that state officials have followed the law “just as it always has” in years past. “Any lawsuit to the contrary is frivolous,” Thomas said, adding that the voter applications are in the hands of county election officials, not Kemp’s office.

The press conference about NGP’s lawsuit wasn’t the only effort this weekend to encourage minority voters to head to the polls. Downstate in Albany, Ga., former President Jimmy Carter made the first of many anticipated appearances in support of his grandson Jason Carter on the gubernatorial campaign trail. According to the AJC, he spoke to a predominantly African-American congregation at Mt. Zion Baptist Church about the way that Georgia Republicans have systemically made voting more difficult, including restrictive Voter ID requirements.

“We were blessed by the fact that there were very few Republicans,” the former president said. “The point is, 12 years ago that trend was changed. And since then, the Legislature and the governor have been determined to put every obstacle in the way for African Americans, mentally retarded people and elderly people to vote.”

The impact of Georgia’s voting rights fight could extend beyond the state’s borders. The race between Republican businessman David Perdue and Democratic nonprofit executive Michelle Nunn is one of a handful of races expected to determine which party gains control in the U.S. Senate. Perdue has held the slightest of leads in recent polls. Minority voters tend to vote for Democratic candidates. That means the final status of those unprocessed NGP applications could be key to determining who wins the race.