Nov 6, 2018 Winterville: Secretary of State Brian Kemp, Republican candidate for Georgia governor, with his daughter Amy Porter, casts his vote at the Winterville Train Depot on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Winterville. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

U.S. House investigation targets Kemp and Georgia voting problems

A congressional investigation criticized Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp for “mocking” allegations of voter suppression by using smiling emojis in emails and dismissing reports of inaccurate registration cancellations.

report from the Democratic-led U.S. House Oversight Committee on Wednesday attacked Kemp’s handling of voter registration purges, poll closures, conflicts of interest and an unfounded accusation that his opponents were trying to hack a voter database just before Election Day in 2018. At the time, Kemp, a Republican, was overseeing elections as secretary of state at the same time he was running for governor.

The committee also accused Kemp of “stonewalling” the investigation by withholding more than 1,400 documents while releasing thousands of other documents that were already publicly available, including court filings and news articles.

In one email, Kemp congratulated his campaign team for its efforts to blunt the impact of an article by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about voters whose registrations were improperly canceled because they didn’t match water billing records.

“Good work, this story is so complex folks will not make it all the way through it,” Kemp wrote in the subject line of a September 2017 email.

Kemp’s office declined to comment Thursday, but a spokesman referred to a statement from Kemp’s chief of staff, who said at the time that it wasn’t appropriate for voter registration cancellations to be based on water bills.

Kemp also replied in October 2017 to a Democrat’s campaign email about voter registration cancellations with a smiling emoji next to the word “us.” The campaign email came from Democrat Stacey Evans, who was running for governor at the time and highlighted an AJC article about Georgia’s removal of more than 500,000 voter registrations, the largest single cancellation in U.S. history.

Much of the committee’s report recapped Georgia’s elections laws and practices documented by the AJC while Kemp was secretary of state from 2010 to 2018.

During that time, election officials canceled more than 1.4 million inactive voters, closed 214 precincts and put 53,000 voter registration applications in “pending” status because of discrepancies in registration information, the AJC has reported.

The 15,500 documents turned over to the committee also outlined allegations that tens of thousands of votes went missing in the 2018 lieutenant governor’s race. The AJC previously obtained those documents through the Georgia Open Records Act.

Some of the 1,400 documents the state withheld from the House Oversight Committee dealt with Kemp’s unsupported accusation, two days before the 2018 election, that the Democratic Party of Georgia attempted to hack voter registration information.

Kemp blamed Democrats after his office was alerted about a potential vulnerability in voter registration information available online.

“The state did not produce any ‘evidence’ to the committee in response to its requests, and the state withheld multiple internal emails on this topic,” the committee’s report states.

The House Oversight Committee has been investigating voting practices in Georgia, Kansas and Texas since March. The committee’s hearing Wednesday featured testimony from civil rights activists and voting rights advocates. The committee plans to continue its investigation.

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