The Georgia Race That May be More Pivotal Than Governorship
The most crucial race in Georgia may be the one no one’s talking about.
After all of the controversy around the race for Governor in Georgia, it may, in fact, be a different Georgia race that proves more pivotal. The election for secretary of state to replace Brain Kemp, who won the governorship, takes place this December. Kemp defeated Stacey Abrams in a controversial race for governor marred with accusations that Kemp suppressed minority votes.
Whoever emerges as Kemp’s replacement will be in control of Georgia’s electoral systems. As the new secretary of state, the individual will be in charge of the state’s voter registration database, determining when or if to remove voters from the database and what to do with Georgia’s old voting machines – giving the secretary of state in Georiga an immensely powerful position.
The election for the secretary of state position is further remarkable considering that several lawsuits have been filed against the office of the secretary of state on accusations of voter suppression.
Who is Running for Georgia Secretary of State?
The contest between Republican Brad Raffensperger and Democrat John Barrow for the position could prove hugely influential in determining the face of elections in the state’s future.
Raffensperger is a former state lawmaker and Barrow represented Georgia in the 12th congressional district for 10 years. Who will emerge the winner is difficult to tell at the moment. During the November 6 election, Raffensperger won 49.13 percent of the vote and Barrow won 48.64 percent – the former leading by 19,000 votes. Libertarian candidate Smythe Duval came up with 2.23 percent.
According to Courthouse News, Raffensperger has made it known that he is an ally of Kemp and will be purging the voter registration database by revoking the eligibility of non-performing voters to ensure election integrity. Kemp approved the removal of over 1.4 million voters during his tenure and last year, he revoked the registrations of over 668,000 voters.
“By keeping the voter rolls updated, we can help safeguard and keep our elections clean so we know that the person who won actually did win,” Raffensperger said during an October 2 debate aired on television by Georgia Public Broadcasting.
While Raffensperger seems disposed to follow in Kemp’s footsteps of purging voters, Barrow does not. Barrow has said he is opposed to purges and promised on Twitter in a June 11 tweet to “protect citizens who choose not to vote.”
What is the Georgia Secretary of State Responsible For?
Dr. Michael Kang, a voting rights expert and election law professor at Northwestern University’s law school, told Courthouse News that controlling who gets to vote goes a long way in determining who wins elections. He explained that the secretary of state has the broad responsibility of deciding what “voter registrations get accepted or placed in pending status, how aggressively you apply voter ID requirements, how many resources get assigned to voting and where, deciding what [voting] machinery gets chosen and how it’s distributed.”
Elections officials are empowered under the voter ID laws to cancel registrations or revoke ballots of voters when their information is not an “exact match” with what is contained in the government’s database. Several voter advocacy groups have filed lawsuits over this policy and federal judges have had to restrict the secretary of state’s activities in this area.
Apart from the power to purge the voter database or restrict voter registration, the secretary of state also has powers to change the state’s voting machines. Georgia’s voting machines are widely considered outdated, and a judged ruled they must be replaced before 2020. The Coalition for Good Governance attempted to have the state use paper ballots in the 2018 general election, but a federal judge prevented the move.
Georgia is one of five U.S. states using only electronic voting machines without recourse to paper ballots. Voting experts say paper ballots serve to verify results provided by voting machines, since electronic voting machines are susceptible to hacking where paper trails are not available.
Raffensperger has said he would update Georgia’s voting machines with “improved paper ballot verification for ballot security,” while Barrow said he would “decertify these machines” and use “hand-marked paper ballots using optical scanners.”
Early voting in the Dec. 4 runoff race begins on Nov. 26 and ends on Nov. 30.