How Georgia Could Still Go to Stacey Abrams

Jay Willis
Brian Kemp holds a slim lead, but thanks to a host of unresolved voting irregularities, this election drags on.

Out of nearly four millions ballots cast in Georgia's hotly-contested gubernatorial race, Democrat Stacey Abrams trailed Brian Kemp, her Republican opponent, by just 64,000 votes as Election Night drew to a close. Abrams, however, has not yet conceded, as her campaign has noted several peculiar irregularities which suggest that ballots in Democrat-leaning counties have yet to be tallied. Kemp has 50.4 percent of the vote right now, but if that number dips below the simple majority required by state law, the pair would proceed to a runoff election on December 4. Abrams is optimistic. "You're going to have a chance to do a do-over," she told supporters on Tuesday.

In other words, Georgia's efforts to investigate and address these irregularities matters a lot. And as you may be aware, in a fun twist, the current secretary of state—the person who is tasked with conducting elections in a fair and transparent manner, and ensuring that every vote gets counted, and certifying the results by the deadline of November 20—happens to be...Brian Kemp.

Wait, I just want to make sure I understand. The man who wants to be governor and the person in charge of the election for governor are the same person?

That is correct.

How is this legal?

Some states require secretaries of state, on conflicts-of-interest grounds, to recuse themselves from elections in which they appear on the ballot, and/or to delegate their election-related duties to a deputy. No such law exists in Georgia, though, and before the election, Kemp preemptively ruled out the possibility of recusing himself, even if the race were to head to a recount—which might be exactly what happens.

Why?

Because, more or less, Georgians have nothing about which to be concerned, he says! "We've got a very competent elections team to oversee that process," Kemp assured voters during a debate in October. "I'm certain that there would be a lot of people watching that."

What is the actual reason for his refusal to recuse himself?

It's impossible to know what's in the man's heart. But I do know that in his official capacity as secretary of state, Kemp purged some 1.4 million voter registrations between 2012 and today, including and nearly 670,000 in 2017 alone. Many of these registrations were removed from the rolls because they moved to another city, or moved across town, or even switched apartments in the same building. I know that he froze some 53,000 voter registration applications for minor typographical errors, and that an estimated 70 percent of those applications came from black people.

I know that he told supporters that low voter turnout would be key to his Election Day success. I know that in the campaign's final days, his office opened an "investigation" into the state Democratic party, and splashed the announcement across the front of its web site for anyone logging on for information about their polling place to see. "I'm not worried about how it looks," he told reporters, referring to his decision to publicize the news just two days before Election Day.

I also know that on Tuesday, it was really, really hard for registered Georgia voters in heavily minority areas to cast their ballots. Look at this embarrassing, banana-republic absurdity taking place in the United States in 2018:

Why is the Abrams campaign hopeful for a recount and/or a runoff?

First, the Wall Street Journal has reported that Abrams' campaign is considering litigation in the areas in which long lines and technical difficulties made it hard to vote. And even among the ballots that were cast, there may be serious problems. According to a statement provided by the campaign to CNN, three of the state's most populous counties "have reported only a portion of the votes that were submitted by early mail," and four others "have reported exactly 0 votes by mail." The campaign believes that there are at least 77,000 uncounted ballots across these seven counties. It is statistically unlikely that Stacey Abrams wins 90 percent of them and snatches the election from Kemp outright. But if counting or recounting them sends his percentage of the total below that 50 percent threshold, the race starts all over again.

Is it really possible for election officials to screw up this badly? Could a recount really lead to a different result?

Oh God, yes. Al Franken won his first Senate campaign in 2008 after being declared the runner-up on Election Night. Christine Gregoire won her 2004 bid to become Washington's governor after a six-month recount. Elections in America are administered using dated machinery that seems to fail at the worst possible time, and by local officials who make mistakes (at best) or seek to put their thumbs on the scale (at worst). The recount is a safeguard against the possibility that these factors could change an outcome to something other than the one for which voters voted. Outcomes don't often change, but the fact that they sometimes do is why the procedure exists in the first place.

And the person in charge of this hypothetical recount, again, is...?

Brian Kemp.

This man belongs in jail.

That isn't a question. But yes.