Secretary of State Brian Kemp filed his qualification papers earlier this month to run for governor. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

PolitiFact: Kemp video stretches facts on voting-rules suits

Says he “fought Obama twice and won to stop illegal immigrants from voting.”

— Brian Kemp campaign on Monday, March 5, 2018 in a Facebook post

The narrator in a campaign video for Georgia Republican Brian Kemp, the secretary of state who’s running for governor, says Kemp battled President Barack Obama “to stop illegal immigrants from voting.”

Courts dismissed lawsuits Kemp filed to change voting procedures in Georgia — after the Obama administration allowed the voting changes. Also, there’s no indication Obama wanted immigrants in the country voting illegally.

Kemp’s campaign pointed to preclearance lawsuits filed on Georgia’s behalf in June and November 2010 against then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Georgia was one of several states whose voting changes had to be cleared in advance by either a federal court or the U.S. Justice Department, under the Voting Rights Act because of the state’s history of voter discrimination.

Jurisdictions under that provision of the law must establish that proposed voting changes do not deny or hinder the right to vote on account of race, color, or language. They can implement voting changes if the Attorney General indicates no objection.

Both of Georgia’s lawsuits dealt with new rules intended to prevent people in the country illegally from casting votes.

The first concerned a voter-verification process that required information on applications to match data kept by Georgia’s Department of Drivers Services and the Social Security Administration. The other stemmed from a Georgia law requiring proof of citizenship.

Both lawsuits were dismissed because the Justice Department approved the changes through the administrative process.

The Justice Department did oppose one of the changes Georgia sought, but later found no objection after the state revised it. So, Kemp and the Justice Department eventually were on the same side.

“As secretary of state, Brian Kemp sued the Obama Justice Department twice — and won — to implement Georgia’s common-sense citizenship check and Photo ID laws,” said Ryan Mahoney, Kemp’s campaign spokesman.

New voter-verification procedures were initially sought by former Secretary of State Karen Handel, who tried to implement them before the 2008 general election. (She resigned in 2009 and is now in the U.S. House.)

The Justice Department in 2008, under Republican President George W. Bush, questioned the process, saying federal law requires states to verify a voter’s identity but not citizenship, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

“The state largely acted as it was required to by the Voting Rights Act, as has been necessary since the law was signed into law in 1965,” said Barry C. Burden, a political science professor and director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “In both of the Georgia cases, the Department of Justice precleared the changes after reviewing them.”

Michael S. Kang, a law professor at Emory University School of Law, said “it’s odd” to claim that Kemp “fought Obama twice” on the basis of the 2010 lawsuits, since the Justice Department ultimately chose to approve both voting changes.

The video could also give an impression that Obama wanted people in the country illegally to vote. “There is zero evidence to support the implication that the Obama administration wanted to see illegal immigrants voting,” Burden said. Kang said he is unaware of any serious evidence that “illegal immigrants” were voting in Georgia at the time.

Our ruling

The facts don’t support the Kemp ad’s assertion. The Obama administration allowed Georgia’s changes to keep noncitizens from voting.

As secretary of state, Kemp was required to seek approval for the changes from the Justice Department or a federal court. He got it from the Justice Department, so the lawsuits were dismissed. Experts described the process as routine under the law.

The ad is flat-wrong to suggest that the Obama administration wanted immigrants in the country illegally to cast votes in elections.

We rate this claim False.