My lawyer had to threaten Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp with a federal lawsuit to force him to turn over the names of over half a million voters whose citizenship rights he quietly extinguished.
This past week, I released the name of every one of these Georgia voters Kemp flushed from voter rolls in 2017. If you’re a Georgia resident, check the list. If your name is on it, re-register right now. You only have through tomorrow (October 9).
It’s no coincidence that Georgia’s Purge’n General is also running for Governor: The Republican candidate is fighting a dead-even race against Stacey Abrams, Democratic House Minority Leader. Abrams, if she wins, would become the first Black woman governor in US history.
Suspiciously, Kemp sent no notice to these citizens after he took away their voting rights. If they show up to vote on November 6, they’re out of luck — and so is Georgia’s democracy.
I brought in one of the nation’s top mailing database experts, Mark Swedlund, and his team to go through the list, name by name. Among the voters purged are thousands who supposedly left the state but remain in Georgia. Thousands more are people who moved from one end of town to another and lost their vote — and we even found one who simply moved from one apartment to another in the same building.
These registration cancellations are therefore dead wrong and, say voting law experts, coldly break the law.
That is why Gerald Griggs, counsel for the Atlanta NAACP, and voting rights attorney Nse Ufot, executive director of the New Georgia Project (a nonpartisan voter registration initiative), are joining in my suit against Kemp.
We’ll be hauling Kemp into federal court to force him to open the records to which the public is entitled under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 — provisions meant to prevent just this type of voter roll shenanigan. In particular, we’re forcing him to disclose the complete detailed process that led to each voter’s removal.
I don’t file federal suits on a whim. Kemp has continually turned down legitimate Open Records Act requests over my five years of investigation for Al Jazeera and Rolling Stone.
Griggs and Ufot made their announcement about the suit at a press conference October 2 in Atlanta at the national headquarters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the civil rights group that traces its origins to the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
The location was meant to make a point. The racial stench from the computerized torching of the Georgia voter files has motivated prominent civil rights leaders from Georgia to add their names to the lawsuit: Axel Adams, executive editor of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition that grew out of two nonprofit organizations founded by Jesse Jackson; Joe Beasley, the former southern regional director for Rainbow PUSH; and SCLC President Dr. Charles Steele Jr., who currently holds the post held by Dr. Martin L. King Jr. until his assassination.
Steele told the gathered media and rights leaders, “Many people have died and paid the supreme sacrifice for people to have the right to vote. What is taking place here in Georgia is an insult to all these efforts and accomplishments.”
Why did I wait to release endangered voters’ names until days before the last day of registration? Because Kemp dragged his feet on my request for the purge lists until literally the last hours before of the 90-day deadline imposed by the law.
I tried to get Kemp’s answers to the NAACP’s and SCLC’s charges that the mass purge of 1 in 10 Georgia voters was aimed at decimating the Black electorate so he could steal the governorship from Abrams.
Technically, Kemp removed voters after they had skipped voting — and failed to return a postcard that, according to Morgan County Elections Board member Helen Butler, “Looks like junk mail. You’d throw it away.” Butler, who also serves as executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, is wary of Kemp’s purge methods. Just last year, her group settled a suit against Kemp that forced him to return over 40,000 voters to the rolls.
The National Voter Registration Act specifically prohibits cancelling voter registrations for not voting. But the failure to vote, in combination with not returning a postcard or other information, can be used to justify a cancellation if there is legitimate belief this is evidence the voter has moved.
“But they have not moved,” notes Swedlund, who says not returning a postcard is an “absurd, dangerous” way to determine if voters have moved — especially if their rights are at stake. And basing cancellations on non-responses to postcards is, Swedlund notes, endemically biased against voters who move often, including the poor, students, and Black and Latino voters — in other words, Democrats.
Notably, Swedlund’s analysts found that 108,000 of the names on Kemp’s hit list were also on the notorious “Interstate Crosscheck” list, which my investigations team had obtained from an insider in Kemp’s office as part of my investigations for Rolling Stone.
The lists were created for Georgia by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, President Donald Trump’s “fraudulent voter hunter.” Kobach himself, interviewed in Kansas, told me the list was sent to Kemp and others to indicate a voter had moved out of state. In fact, we went through each and every Crosscheck-tagged voter’s name — and only 2,000 of the 108,000 Crosschecked voters who were purged have left the state. And the majority of others purged had not moved from their original registration address. In simple terms, most of those whose registrations have been cancelled are legitimate Georgia voters.
Representatives from Kemp’s office issued a statement this week denying they used the Crosscheck list, but they did not know we had obtained the list despite Kemp’s resistance. Furthermore, Kemp’s former deputy and his predecessor as Secretary of State both confirmed Georgia participated in Crosscheck.
Meanwhile, Kemp had no clear response as to why the others were removed.
So, I thought it important to get the answers about the purges from the horse’s mouth. But Kemp has weaved and ducked all my interview requests in my several trips to Georgia beginning in 2014.
So, this time, I decided to track down his campaign bus. On Tuesday, I located the candidate in the parking lot of a BBQ joint in Newnan, 38 miles outside Atlanta. You could smell the pigs roasting.
I asked Kemp, bluntly, “Mr. Kemp are you removing Black voters from the voter rolls just so you can win this election?”
Kemp’s answer was to turn his back as I was physically body-blocked, then grabbed and hauled away by Georgia “smokies,” the local county deputy sheriffs. (They claimed that Sprayberry’s Barbecue ordered me off the property, but the owner said otherwise.) It was later reported that his handlers had clocked me before the bus pulled in.
The civil rights leaders are dissatisfied with Kemp’s response and will press our litigation. “Georgia,” said the SCLC’s Steele, “needs to know that we’re not going to take it anymore.”