Two Sides of the Same Coin

Now that Georgia has been named, at least by some, as a battleground state, there has been a lot of attention drawn to the Peach State’s voter registration and elections procedures, and by extension to Secretary of State Brian Kemp. The fact that Georgia was one of the states that was subject to scrutiny by the U.S. Justice Department under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act–a practice eliminated by the Supreme Court–has likely added to the number of challenges by third parties to the state’s voter registration and elections procedures.

The increased attention to voting rights in front of an election that could turn Georgia blue for the first time in a generation is exemplified in this morning’s story in the Washington Post that describes the tension between those wanting to ensure that all those who are eligible to vote can, and those wanting to make sure that voter fraud doesn’t take place. The conflict between voter eligibility and voter fraud is illustrated in this paragraph from the story:

In mid-September, the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda sued Kemp’s office over a policy that required information on voter-registration applications to exactly match data in state driver’s license or Social Security records. A simple clerical error, such as a misplaced hyphen or transposed letters or numbers, could trigger a mismatch and result in an application being rejected. Voters would have 40 days to correct the discrepancies but would not be told specifically what needed to be fixed.

On the one hand, the policy can be looked at as a way to prevent fraudulent voter registrations. It can be quite good at catching a situation where a person lives at one address but attempts to vote somewhere else. On the other hand, the requirement for an exact match between what is entered on the registration form and records on file with the DDS or Social Security office can easily generate more false positives than it identifies actual cases of fraud, and potentially keep legitimate voters off the rolls.

chartAll of this is made more interesting when looking at the findings of a new survey by PRRI that examines the views of Americans leading up to the November elections. The survey asked which was the bigger problem: eligible voters who are unable to vote, or ineligible voters who vote anyway. As you can see on the chart to the right, while voter suppression is viewed as the bigger problem by four percentage points, there are major differences when looking at party affiliation. Republicans believe the problem of voter fraud is more significant, 66% to 17%. Democrats believe voter suppression is more of a problem, 62% to 19%.

And that brings us to Secretary Kemp, who is charged with both ensuring that all those who are eligible to cast a ballot can, and preventing those who are not eligible from voting. As he has said in his press releases, “As Georgia’s chief elections official, I want to ensure every Georgian has the opportunity to allow their voice to be heard at the polls.” While he can’t control everything about the elections process the Post story finds fault with, such as the single location for advance voting in Gwinnett or processing voter registration forms, which is done at county elections offices, ultimately he has responsibility for it all. He has to represent all voters, whether they are Republican, Democrat, or independent.

That commitment to impartiality should extend to Kemp’s social media presence. That’s why it’s a bit disturbing to see posts on his Secretary of State Facebook Page referencing “crazy, baseless narratives created by the Left,” or “the Left’s attempt to create chaos in Georgia’s elections,” or “Stand with me in opposition to the left’s blatant attempts to disrupt Georgia’s elections!” While language like that may appeal to the Republican base he will need should he run for higher office in 2018, it does nothing to reassure the 57% of 2016 voters, who according to the PRRI survey, have only some confidence, or hardly any confidence that their vote will be counted accurately.

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