Silencing the Majority: Voting Rights in Peril

Voter fraud has become a popular concern since President Trump claimed that three million people voted illegally in the 2016 Presidential election. Many Republicans fear that undocumented immigrants are voting illegally, and in particular, for Democrats. Last year, Georgia’s Republican-controlled state legislature enacted an “exact match” voter-verification program which flags registrations that have even minor discrepancies with official records. If there a minor discrepancy, such as a missing hyphen in a person’s name, their voter registration status is placed in “pending status” until it is corrected. This system was enacted to make the process of validating registrations stricter in order to avoid voter fraud. Rather than significantly addressing voter fraud in Georgia, a problem that is not persistent in the state, this exact match system is confirming the fear held by many black Americans that their voting rights are diminishing.

Recently, it was reported that Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp is holding 53,000 voter registration applications because they were flagged by the exact match system. While only 32% of Georgia’s population is black,  70% of the withheld applications belonged to black voters.  Kemp, a Republican, is being heavily criticized for this action not only because it disproportionately affects minorities but also because it directly affects his campaign in a tight race for governor against Democrat Stacey Abrams. If Abraham were to win, she would be the first black women to even govern a U.S. state.

Democrats believe Kemp is abusing his position by silencing the voices of thousands of people of color in order to shape Georgia’s electorate to his advantage; as incumbent Secretary of State, he is overseeing voting and voter registration rules for his own election. However, Kemp has denied the allegations of any corruption or voting rights violations. He’s refuted the claim that those on the pending list will not be able to vote in the election; according to state law, people on the “pending list can still vote if they bring their I.D. with them to the polls.

However, many black Americans are worried that they will be left out of this political process, a concern that has become increasingly prominent after the Supreme Court ruled that Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. Justice Roberts believed that racial discrimination in voting had been greatly reduced because of this act, thus making it no longer necessary. Nearly a thousand polling places have closed since this ruling, most of which have been in predominantly African-American counties.

This is not the first attempt by Kemp to interfere with voter registrations in ways that disproportionately affected people of color.  In the last six years, he has allowed nearly 8% (214) of Georgia’s local voting locations to remain closed and has cancelled 35,000 people’s applications between 2013 and 2015 alone, and 76 percent of those people were minorities. A coalition of civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against Kemp, seeking an immediate end to the exact match program. The claim that it serves no legitimate purpose to the state and is contrary to federal voting laws. They claim that the law only places an extra burden on minority voters.

Kemp’s opponent Abrams has called for his resignation due to his efforts to disenfranchise voters. She believes that she will emerge victorious in November.

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