Brian Kemp Just Engaged in a Last-Minute Act of Banana-Republic Level Voter Manipulation in Georgia

A screenshot of Brian Kemp’s last-minute ploy. Screenshot of sos.ga.gov on Nov. 4, 2018.

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well as the erasure of the Center’s server database and a host of serious security vulnerabilities permitted by their outdated software and system operations.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.”

WhoWhatWhy issued a report early on Sunday morning that seemed to explain what was going on.

Just before noon on Saturday, a third party provided WhoWhatWhy with an email and document, sent from the Democratic Party of Georgia to election security experts, that highlights ‘massive’ vulnerabilities within the state’s My Voter Page and its online voter registration system. According to the document, it would not be difficult for almost anyone with minimal computer expertise to access millions of people’s private information and potentially make changes to their voter registration — including canceling it.

If this is true, it doesn’t show Democrats “hacking” to manipulate election results. It shows Democrats, like many others, pointing out the glaring security flaws in Georgia’s voting system. To turn this around and blame Democrats is an act of political chutzpah by an election official on par with nothing else I’ve seen.

It is bad enough there is a partisan election official running Georgia’s elections. It is also bad enough that this partisan election official is in charge of his very own election, an election where he is running in a very tight race against Democrat Stacey Abrams, and that he has engaged in acts of voters suppression aimed to decrease the turnout for the candidate who would be this nation’s first black woman to win a governor’s mansion. 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.”

But what Kemp has done now goes beyond the pale. He’s accused his opponents of election tampering without evidence on the eve of the election, and plastered the incendiary charge on an official state website in the days before his office will administer that election. This is some banana republic stuff.

Brian Kemp needs to step aside from running this election. If he doesn’t and he wins, lots of people will now believe the fix was in. Considering these latest actions, that belief will be justified.