11/6/18 - Marietta - A steady steam of people vote at the Noonday Baptist Church in Marietta. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

Opinion: Count the votes; all of them

“It's incredibly shameful that liberal lawyers are doubling down on lawsuits, desperately trying to create more votes for Stacey Abrams,” Republican Brian Kemp claimed this week. “They don't want to win this election. They are trying to steal it."

That’s a grave allegation, one that cuts to the very core of the democratic system of American self-governance. It becomes even more grave when you consider that in his zeal to claim the governor’s office, Kemp has offered no evidence whatsoever that even one vote has been “created,” let alone that the entire election is being stolen. In the words of one federal court judge, Kemp’s claim “is unfounded and unsupported by any evidence of such fraudulent ballots being cast.”

Instead, we have something very different. We have overwhelming, conclusive, documented evidence that thousands of perfectly legitimate ballots cast by Georgia citizens would have been tossed aside, uncounted, stripping those citizens of their voice, if not for a series of federal court decisions insisting that the right to vote be protected.

We also have evidence that many of the ongoing problems are the result of Kemp’s own incompetence in his recently resigned job as Georgia secretary of state. For example, many more Georgians were forced to vote a provisional ballot this year because of discrepancies with their voter registration. According to the federal courts, that increase is not the fault of voters, but is “reasonably likely to have been the result of persistent problems and/or errors in the state’s voter registration system and ineffective administration of the provisional balloting scheme,” both of which were Kemp’s responsibility.

In the words of U.S. District Court Judge Amy Totenberg, the evidence shows a high likelihood that “(Kemp’s) failure to properly maintain a reliable and secure voter registration system has and will continue to result in the infringement of the rights of voters to cast their vote and have their votes counted.”

That’s a pretty slick trick on Kemp’s part, if you think about it. Either by design or incompetence, you force the casting of tens of thousands of additional, slow-to-count provisional ballots, then accuse the other side of committing fraud and election theft when those ballots naturally take longer to process and count.

Kemp is probably right about one thing: He probably did win enough votes to become governor, and to do so without a Dec. 4 runoff. However, in a very tight election, it is not too much to ask that every vote be counted before that conclusion becomes official.

We also shouldn’t need federal judges to force Georgia officials to do what they should have been doing all along: Count the votes that were cast. All of them. And don’t try to use minor technicalities to strip citizens of their voice, as they have been caught doing repeatedly.

Many of the problems in Georgia are being echoed in other states with tight elections.  There as here, one party has been trying to ensure that all the votes are counted so that we know that the final results are accurate, while the other party has tried to stop the counting prematurely. One party is making outrageous charges of voter fraud, while producing no evidence to support those claims, while the other party works to ensure that tens of thousands of American voters aren’t silenced.

In Florida, for example, Gov. Rick Scott has claimed ongoing fraud even though two investigations that he himself ordered have produced zero evidence to support that charge. In Arizona, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate had a slight lead on Election Night, but lost that lead as hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots were counted. At one point in that counting, as it became clear that Martha McSally would lose, President Trump demanded that counting be stopped and the election be declared null, simply because he did not like the outcome.

This is ridiculous. For years now, we’ve witnessed a concerted effort by conservatives to discredit anyone who tells them things they don’t want to hear. They’ve done it to scientists and to academia; they’ve done it to the mainstream media. And now that the nation’s electoral system is telling them things they don’t want to hear,  they are attempting to discredit its findings as well. 

Do we have problems with our elections systems? Yes. They are largely problems created by inadequate staffing, resources and technology, and they should be fixed. But to the degree that there’s fraud, the type of fraud that attempts to strip citizens of their right to cast a ballot is far, far more prevalent, and far, far more serious, than the ungrounded fantasies of illegal voting nurtured on the right.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman
Jay Bookman
Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.