Two hours before the polls were set to close in Georgia, a group of voters in the state filed an emergency lawsuit seeking to prevent Secretary of State Brian Kemp from presiding over the statewide election in which he’s a candidate for governor. Kemp is facing off against Stacey Abrams, who, if she wins, would be the first black woman to serve as a governor in the U.S.
The five voters named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit want a restraining order that would bar Kemp from “being involved in the counting of votes, the certification of results, or any runoff or recount procedures,” according to a press release from Protect Democracy, the nonpartisan nonprofit representing the plaintiffs.
The emergency lawsuit is the latest chapter in a book full of troubling complications surrounding the election in Georgia. In Slate, legal scholar Richard L. Hasen wrote that Kemp’s multitasking of overseeing the state’s election while running for governor is “perhaps the most outrageous example of election administration partisanship in the modern era.”
The lawsuit hinges in part on Kemp’s decision this weekend to use his office as a platform to make unfounded accusations that the Georgia Democratic Party attempted to hack into the state’s voter-registration system. On Saturday, a lawyer who represents election-security advocates told Kemp and the FBI of a potential flaw in the voter database that allowed anyone to access and edit supposedly private voter information. In response, Kemp announced his office would investigate the Democratic Party—without citing any evidence to support his claims that it had taken advantage of the vulnerability.
Kemp has also come under scrutiny for holding up more than 50,000 voter registrations, purging existing voter rolls, and rejecting absentee ballots due to signature mismatches. Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern wrote that Kemp has “devoted his time in office to a ruthless campaign of voter suppression.”
Georgia’s voting infrastructure is outdated and vulnerable, as Axios reported in August, with problems including dysfunctional 16-year-old voting machines that lack a paper trail. Experts say keeping a paper trail is crucial in order to certify the accuracy of elections—but there are still states, namely Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, New Jersey, and Delaware, that don’t do so.
Accusations targeting the integrity of a state’s voting system—whether real or perceived, and whether technical or political—can have profound and lasting effects on the health of our democracy. As U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg wrote in a September ruling in a lawsuit against Kemp:
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.