Ga. GOP sees voter participation as a threat, and acts accordingly

This week, Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced a major investigation into voter-registration fraud allegedly perpetrated by the New Georgia Project, a group that has already registered some 85,000 new voters for the November election. The project is focusing its efforts on minority and other underrepresented groups, most of which tend to vote Democratic, but Kemp, a staunch Republican, rejects any claim that his investigation is partisan.

“At the end of the day, this is not going to be about politics,” Kemp told Channel 2 Action News. “This is about potential fraud which we think has happened.”

If fraud exists, it absolutely ought to be ferreted out. But let me climb out on a very sturdy branch and make a prediction:

After the November election, this investigation into alleged fraud will produce almost nothing. It may uncover a few harmless technical violations of the sort inevitable in any large-scale registration effort, but it will turn up no intent to defraud. Kemp’s claim of nonpartisanship notwithstanding, this “investigation” is meant to achieve two goals:

  • Shut down or at least handicap a legal, successful voter-registration drive in an election year when margins of victory may be slim;

  • Allow Kemp to win points among the Republican base that he needs to further his political ambitions.

And just to be clear, let me explain what I mean by “harmless technical violations.”

Under state law, every voter-registration form, regardless of merit, must be turned in to elections officials. The goal of that law is to ensure, for example, that Democrats running a voter-registration drive don’t throw away applications of those who might vote Republican, and vice versa. In practice, however, the requirement also means that those running a registration drive are obliged by law to turn in forms that they themselves suspect might be invalid, such as those filled out by "Donald Duck".

That is not “fraud” by any stretch of the imagination. In this context, Kemp intends “fraud” to suggest an illegal effort by Democrats to subvert an election, and again, I predict that suggestion will prove groundless and even irresponsible. In effect, we're watching as a state official whose primary responsibility is to protect the sanctity of elections turn around and use that power to game the system.

It is not, however, surprising. Nationwide, Republicans now treat every effort to encourage voting as a threat to their party, and for obvious reasons. In elections with high turnout, they do poorly. In elections with low turnout, they do well. Therefore, they seek elections with low turnout. Among Democrats, the calculation is reversed: The more Americans they can convince to vote, legally and properly, the better off they tend to do.

In DeKalb County, for example, officials this week announced that they would allow Sunday voting at three locations, a step likely to increase turnout in DeKalb and thus help Democrats. The step was quickly condemned as partisan, with Gov. Nathan Deal warning that he might seek to have the practice outlawed. Of course, outlawing it would also be nakedly partisan.

For the moment, other counties are also free to have Sunday voting, and two — Democratic-leaning Fulton and Republican-leaning Lowndes — quickly followed DeKalb’s lead. As long as the opportunity to vote is equal, I don’t see the issue.

I do, however, question the wisdom of a political party that bets its future on its ability to discourage voter participation in democracy. That doesn't seem a long-term strategy for success.