Brian Kemp Rigging His Own Election

Partisan officials should not be in charge of state election processes, much less their own.

Brian Kemp, the Republican nominee to be the next governor of Georgia, is also its sitting Secretary of State, the official in charge of the process which will determine how the election is conducted, including who gets to vote and which votes get counted. And he’s not even being subtle about parlaying that conflict of interest into a personal advantage.

Richard Hasen:

In perhaps the most outrageous example of election administration partisanship in the modern era, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is running for governor while simultaneously in charge of the state’s elections, has accused the Democratic Party without evidence of hacking into the state’s voter database. He plastered a headline about it on the Secretary of State’s website, which thousands of voters use to get information about voting on election day.

It’s just the latest in a series of partisan moves by Kemp, who has held up more than 50,000 voter registrations for inconsistencies as small as a missing hyphen, fought rules to give voters a chance to prove their identities when their absentee ballot applications are rejected for a lack of a signature match, and been aggressive in prosecuting those who have done nothing more than try to help those in need of assistance in casting ballots.

But the latest appalling move by Kemp to publicly accuse the Democrats of hacking without evidence is even worse than that: Kemp has been one of the few state election officials to refuse help from the federal Department of Homeland Security to deter foreign and domestic hacking of voter registration databases. After computer scientists demonstrated the insecurity of the state’s voting system, he was sued for having perhaps the most vulnerable election system in the country. His office has been plausibly accused of destroying evidence, which would have helped to prove the vulnerabilities of the state election system.

Things are so bad with the security of Georgia’s election system that federal district court judge Amy Totenberg minced no words about the problems:

The State’s posture in this litigation – and some of the testimony and evidence presented – indicated that the Defendants and State election officials had buried their heads in the sand. This is particularly so in their dealing with the ramifications of the major data breach and vulnerability at the Center for Election Services, which contracted with the Secretary of State’s Office, as well as the erasure of the Center’s server database and a host of serious security vulnerabilities permitted by their outdated software and system operations. A wound or reasonably threatened wound to the integrity of a state’s election system carries grave consequences beyond the results in any specific election, as it pierces citizens’ confidence in the electoral system and the value of voting. Advanced persistent threats in this data-driven world and ordinary hacking are unfortunately here to stay. Defendants will fail to address that reality if they demean as paranoia the research-based findings of national cybersecurity engineers and experts in the field of elections.

Ultimately, Totenberg has not required the state switch to paper ballots for the upcoming election because she ruled that the request was too close Election Day, an unfortunate pattern among federal courts these days.

If anyone is to blame for vulnerabilities with the voting system it is Kemp. And now he’s trying to turn those vulnerabilities into crass political advantage by blaming Democrats without evidence for the state’s failings. The press release entitled ”After Failed Hacking Attempt, SOS Launches Investigation into Georgia Democratic Party” provides no details. It quotes a spokesperson saying “While we cannot comment on the specifics of an ongoing investigation, I can confirm that the Democratic Party of Georgia is under investigation for possible cyber crimes.”

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything like this. Perhaps it’s because Secretary of State tends not to be a direct pipeline to the prize statewide offices of governor and U.S. Senator. Or perhaps it’s just that Kemp is unusually corrupt and brazen.

While I’ve been aware that the Secretary of State tends to be in charge of elections going back to my college days,* most Americans likely didn’t pay attention to it until the 2000 presidential election, in which Republican nominee George W. Bush’s fate was decided in a contested recount in Florida, where his brother Jeb was governor and Republican Katherine Harris was Secretary of State, as well as co-chair of W’s campaign in the state. While I viewed her actions as legitimate, she had an absurd conflict of interest that made it impossible for Democrats to believe they were getting a fair shake. In particular, when she certified Bush’s election in accordance with Florida law while a disputed recount was still underway, Democrats inevitably cried Foul.

The bottom line is that, regardless of how one perceives the actions of Harris or Kemp, it’s simply bizarre to have an openly partisan official making countless judgments that may impact the outcome of our democratic processes. Indeed, it makes no sense to have an elected official, period, in such a role. Even if the official’s integrity is above reproach, they simply have inherent conflicts of interest. If they’re partisan officials, they face enormous pressure to rule in favor of their own party. Even as non-partisan officials subject to election, they’d face pressure to rule in a way that satisfied voters regardless of the letter of the law. And, obviously, if they themselves are running for an office under their purview (including simply running for re-election as Secretary of State) any ruling they make that favors them will be under suspicion.

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* In addition to being a political science major, one of my professors at Jacksonville State, Glen Browder, was elected to that office in Alabama shortly after my arrival there. He would later become my Congressman, replacing the legendary Bill Nichols.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. This is also an issue in Kansas, where Secretary of State Kris Kobach is running for Governor.

    As a general rule, a Secretary of State whose duties include supervisory authority over the election process should be required to recuse themselves from presiding over any aspect of a race that they are a candidate in. I can’t even conceive of who might object to this kind of rule.

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  2. Argon says:

    At what point should this result in a criminal charge and jail time? When will this stuff actually lead to serious repercussions against those who pull these stunts?

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  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I can’t even conceive of who might object to this kind of rule.

    Brian Kemp conceived of it. 😉

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  4. @Argon:

    There is no evidence justifying criminal charges.

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  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Then there oughta be a law. Seriously. This is corruption squared.

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  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: We have laws against stealing money. We have laws against stealing cars. We have laws against stealing identities. We have laws against stealing ideas. But we don’t have laws against stealing elections?

    ETA after posting this addendum to my comment above it, the missing edit function miraculously reappeared in the first comment.

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  7. Ben Wolf says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: There is no constitutional right to vote. Which Doug knows.

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  8. @OzarkHillbilly:

    There is no evidence to support the contention that Brian Kemp is “stealing” an election.

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  9. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I can’t even conceive of who might object to this kind of rule.

    Partisan’s who are afraid that their candidates might lose?

    I do see your point, though. If only there were a way for legislatures to do something about the problem.

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  10. @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Much like Gerrymandering, there is no incentive for legislatures to do anything about something like this.

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  11. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    When you can’t sell your ideas, and you’ve already sold all the hate and anger and fear you can sell, the only thing left to do is cheat.

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  12. MarkedMan says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    There is no evidence to support the contention that Brian Kemp is “stealing” an election.

    There is evidence. You may not feel the evidence is sufficient, but nonetheless it is there. the very fact that he is deciding these issues rather than recuse himself in favor of a neutral party is evidence.

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  13. James Pearce says:

    @MarkedMan:

    You may not feel the evidence is sufficient, but nonetheless it is there. the very fact that he is deciding these issues rather than recuse himself in favor of a neutral party is evidence.

    “A neutral party,” like who?

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  14. Jen says:

    “A neutral party,” like who?

    There should rather obviously, in my opinion, be a safeguard in every state’s RSA against these type of shenanigans. A panel of three comprised of a former legislator from each party and an academic specializing in election law might work. There has to be some way to address this.

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  15. Guarneri says:

    I have no idea at this point whether the charges are true. However, people making such visible and controversial claims tend to not invite the FBI to investigate. That’s called suicide. I’m sure Doug and perhaps James know better than I whether there is legal exposure here, but if the FBI were to conclude this was a bogus claim and 11th hour campaign stunt I can’t imaging it will end well for Kemp.

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  16. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Guarneri:

    people making such visible and controversial claims tend to not invite the FBI to investigate

    Hmmm…that reminds me of Dennison, and Justice Boof.

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  17. Catchling says:

    Guarneri:

    I’m sure Doug and perhaps James know better than I whether there is legal exposure here, but if the FBI were to conclude this was a bogus claim and 11th hour campaign stunt I can’t imaging it will end well for Kemp.

    I can very easily imagine their conclusion being “no harm, no foul”. Just because the FBI is currently investigating Trump’s cronies doesn’t make them generically liberal or something. There’s still a strong cultural incentive, a bro code among men in suits, to not put Kemp in handcuffs.

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  18. MarkedMan says:

    It is a sad thing that the Republican Party is effectively opting out of outreach to anyone but white Christians, virulent racists, and the wealthy. They know they can only win by stacking the deck. It literally no longer occurs to them that they could do anything to win over, say Latinos, Asian Americans or suburban women. Instead they gerrymander and create modern versions of Jim Crow laws.

    Lest you think I am wrong, watch how a Republican responds when someone asks why they are not doing well with group X. Almost without fail they talk about how they have to do a better job of getting their message out, of showing why their policies will actually benefit the group. I think it has been twenty years since I’ve heard a Republican in a national venue say something like, “Perhaps we need to listen to their concerns a bit more. After all, if we seek to represent them shouldn’t we understand what they care about rather than just lecture to them about what we think they should care about?”

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  19. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Almost without fail they talk about how they have to do a better job of getting their message out, of showing why their policies will actually benefit the group. I think it has been twenty years since I’ve heard a Republican in a national venue say something like, “Perhaps we need to listen to their concerns a bit more. After all, if we seek to represent them shouldn’t we understand what they care about rather than just lecture to them about what we think they should care about?”

    Because if they listened to the concerns of minorities and women, they’d find out that, “No, second class citizenship is not a benefit to us. No, not even if you lower the taxes of the rich again.”

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  20. SKI says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    There is no evidence to support the contention that Brian Kemp is “stealing” an election.

    What do you call evidence of systematically disenfranchising people who you believe are more likely to support your opponent?

    Judge orders Ga. officials to stop tossing absentee ballots over signatures

    and

    [T]hrough a process that Kemp calls voter roll maintenance and his opponents call voter roll purges, Kemp’s office has cancelled over 1.4 million voter registrations since 2012. Nearly 670,000 registrations were cancelled in 2017 alone.”

    An analysis of the records obtained by The Associated Press reveals racial disparity in the process. Georgia’s population is approximately 32 percent black, according to the U.S. Census, but the list of voter registrations on hold with Kemp’s office is nearly 70 percent black.

    he is rejecting absentee ballots and cancelling registrations that impact black and other non-white voters in disproportionate ways. You may think it isn’t dispositive but in what world is this not “evidence” of trying to steal an election?

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  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Doug Mataconis: His every action in tossing ballots for the smallest mistake is evidence of it. His “investigations” into groups trying to register voters is evidence of it. His use of the “exact match” law to toss new voter registrations is evidence of it. His “investigation” into “DEM hacking” is evidence of it. The GOP will scream until they are blue in the face that it’s all perfectly legal, and you being a lawyer will agree with them.

    But it’s still not right and using the law to deny people the franchise and to keep those people from being elected is particularly heinous. And it’s electoral theft. Like I said, there oughta be a law.

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  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    There is no constitutional right to vote.

    The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

    The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

    The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age.

    The Constitution disagrees with you.

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  23. SKI says:

    @Doug Mataconis: More, from Rick Hasen’s Slate piece James linked to in the main article:

    It is still worse that we have an election official who, according to audio leaked to Rolling Stone, expressed concern about the state’s citizens exercising their rights to vote via absentee ballot: “[Democrats] have just an unprecedented number of [absentee ballot applications],” he said, “which is something that continues to concern us, especially if everybody uses and exercises their right to vote—which they absolutely can—and mail those ballots in, we gotta have heavy turnout to offset that.”

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  24. Guarneri says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Nonsense I.

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  25. Guarneri says:

    @Catchling:

    Nonsense II.

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  26. An Interested Party says:

    This kind of thing always seem to come up with Republicans…are Democrats ever in a position to manipulate elections in this way…

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  27. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Best way to tell if Kemp is stealing the election: if a Democrat were doing it, the screaming would be heard all the way to the Crab Nebula.

    I hope she kicks his sorry ass all the way into the deepest part of the everglades where the hungriest alligator will take a bite out of him and spit it out in disgust.

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