The 2018 midterm elections saw the highest voter turnout for a midterm election since 1914, but the other side of that achievement was the widespread difficulties voters faced across the country. One of the more worrisome electoral processes was the election in Georgia and particularly the gubernatorial race, which gained national attention as a result of voter suppression allegations.
Although there are many cases, the clearest case of voter suppression in Georgia was through the use of the exact match system, which prevents a person from voting if their voter registration information does not exactly match their driver’s license and social security information. Brian Kemp, Georgia secretary of state and the Republican nominee during this election, oversaw the implementation of this policy, causing many civil rights groups to file lawsuits against it.
The courts should ultimately follow the historical precedent of a broad interpretation of the Fifteenth Amendment and rule the exact match system as unconstitutional, in recognition of its blatantly racist consequences. And, as a result of his enforcement of this policy, Brian Kemp should be barred from the Governor’s office, regardless of the final results. His actions were an overt attempt to manipulate the democratic process and delegitimize the election.
To understand the problem, one needs to understand who is being harmed the most by the exact match system. Under these strict guidelines, any misspelling, even the omission of a hyphen or of a middle name, is cause for the indefinite suspension of a person’s right to vote. Furthermore, there is no review process of the voter registrations determined to be a mismatch and, oftentimes, voting will be prevented because of an error by the individual who made the entry, not the voters themselves. For instance, some voters were turned away at the polls because of accidental spaces entered in the online database.
While this might just seem overly bureaucratic, the reality is that this policy disproportionately affects minorities. According to voting rights advocates, racial minorities are more likely to have names that are prone to minor discrepancies that would disenfranchise them under the exact match system. And it’s especially concerning considering that black people within the Atlanta metro area, a historically Democratic-leaning demographic, are among the groups affected. Ultimately, 53,000 voters were held up in trying to vote, a significant number given the intensity of this particular election. And despite the fact that Kemp had assured voters that they would be able to vote as normal, reports on election day indicated otherwise; many people were simply turned away at the polls.
This is not even the first time Georgians have had to fight against the exact match system. As reported by CityLab, Brian Kemp tried to implement the policy for the first time in 2008 but this attempt failed the preclearance requirement of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This required that states submit their voter registration requirements to the federal government for approval — a measure intended to fight against state-enforced discrimination. In their decision statement, the Justice Department said that the “flawed system frequently subjects a disproportionate number of African-American, Asian and/or Hispanic voters to additional and, more importantly, erroneous burdens on the right to register to vote.” As a result, Brian Kemp’s racist policy was struck down. However, in 2010, he managed to get an exact match policy passed which lasted until 2016, when civil rights groups provided sufficient evidence of discrimination and sued Kemp. Georgia settled the suit and agreed to suspend the program.
Nevertheless, Brian Kemp’s racism is stronger than his commitment to democracy. He implemented this latest form of the exact match system in 2017, which only varies slightly from the one most recently suspended. However, civil rights groups have had a harder time fighting against this final attempt after Shelby v. Holder, in which the Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, effectively eliminating the legal precedent against the exact match system.
Regardless, the Justice Department’s decision and the statistical data should be more than enough evidence to show that the exact match system is a fundamentally racist policy and is, therefore, a violation of the Fifteenth Amendment. And consequently, Brian Kemp should be barred from the office of which he already claims ownership as punishment for his role as the overseer of an election with widespread and well-supported claims of voter suppression.
Kemp has forced the United States. to question whether or not it values the integrity of its elections. The Georgia election has yet to be called, but sooner or later someone will have to take office. Regardless of political positions, no one is less deserving to be the Governor of Georgia than an enemy of civil liberties. It is vital to the integrity of our institutions that the courts concur.
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Email Cole Stallone at [email protected]