Kemp claims victory in Georgia, prompting threat of legal action from Abrams

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent
Stacey Abrams, left, and Brian Kemp. (Photos: John Amis/AP)

WASHINGTON — Republican Brian Kemp claimed victory Wednesday afternoon in the Georgia governor’s race, but Democrat Stacey Abrams said not all votes have been counted and announced a legal team that will fight to prolong the contest.

Abrams’s campaign manager, Lauren Groh-Wargo, called the process “a severe injustice” and said they were forming a legal team to prevent Kemp from moving forward.

Central to Abrams’s complaint is that Kemp is not only a candidate for governor but Georgia’s secretary of state, the government official in charge of overseeing the reporting of election results.

Kemp claimed Wednesday that he had won the race, but the Abrams campaign said it was ludicrous to allow him to make that claim without releasing evidence that all votes have been counted.

“This election is over; the votes have been counted,” Kemp adviser Austin Chambers said on a conference call. “And the results are clear: Brian Kemp is the governor-elect.”

The Abrams campaign soon held their own conference call with reporters.

“They are trying to force an outcome … without offering proof,” Groh-Wargo said.

She said the Abrams campaign has its own estimate of how many votes remain outstanding but wasn’t ready to release it. The secretary of state office pegged the total of outstanding provisional ballots at 22,000 and the number of uncounted absentee ballots at 3,000. Groh-Wargo said the Abrams campaign also believes there are “potentially large numbers of absentee ballots” that have yet to be counted.

The secretary of state’s website said Wednesday evening that all ballots had been counted and that Kemp led Abrams, 1,973,098 to 1,910,388. That gave him 50.33 percent of the vote, just enough to avoid falling below the 50 percent threshold that would trigger an automatic runoff.

Part of the challenge in verifying the result is that Kemp has resisted calls to switch the state to voting machines with a paper trail. Georgia is one of only five states using electronic machines that do not provide an auditable paper trail. “Georgia’s voting systems are 16 years old, and the state can’t double check if its election results are accurate because it uses voting machines that don’t have a paper trail,” Axios reported in August.

Kemp was the only state official to decline assistance from the Department of Homeland Security to secure his state’s voting system, Politico reported in July.

That leaves the integrity of the result in the hands of Kemp to an unusual degree. He has dismissed calls to resign his position to avoid the very kind of conflict of interest that now leaves him in the position of candidate and referee over a tight election.

“If this is not a breach of public trust and abuse of power … I don’t know what is,” Groh-Wargo said.

Kemp has faced criticism for using the power of his office to investigate minority voter groups when they have electoral success and to remove more than 2 million voters from the rolls for inactivity, and for putting thousands of voters in limbo because of minor discrepancies between their voter registration and other state or federal records.

The Associated Press found in October that Kemp’s office had placed over 53,000 voter registrations in “pending” status because of its “exact match policy” and that most of the registrations affected by the policy were of African-Americans.

Kemp says he has purged the voter rolls to prevent voter fraud, despite the fact that numerous studies have concluded that organized and widespread voter fraud is not a problem.

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