VALDOSTA – Don’t forget that tomorrow, Tuesday, December 4, is the runoff election for the Georgia Secretary of State – a race which has garnered national attention due to the fracas over voter suppression allegations against former Secretary of State and governor-elect Brian Kemp.
According to a December 3 report from Mother Jones:
John Barrow is the only former member of Congress with the unfortunate distinction of being drawn out of his district not once, but twice. In 2004, after he was elected to the House, Georgia Republicans redrew the state’s political districts and removed Barrow’s liberal hometown of Athens, home to the University of Georgia, to make his district more GOP-friendly. Barrow moved to Savannah and narrowly survived reelection.
Republicans redrew the state’s maps again after the 2010 election and once again targeted Barrow, removing 41,000 black voters in Savannah from his district, along with his new residence. Barrow was forced to move to staunchly conservative Augusta, best known as the home of the Masters golf tournament, and finally lost reelection in 2014. By that time, he was the last white Democrat from the Deep South in the House.
Barrow, 63, calls himself “the most gerrymandered member of Congress in history.”
Barrow has personal experience dealing with attempts to manipulate state voting laws, which led him to run this year for Georgia secretary of state, in a bid to become the state’s top election official. Although he lost by 19,000 votes to Republican state representative Brad Raffensperger, neither won a majority – which leads to tomorrow’s runoff.
“For many years, most folks haven’t put much thought into the office of Secretary of State,” Barrow wrote in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But on November 6th, all of us received a civics lesson on the importance of this office.”
Kemp’s implementation of a series of policies made it harder to vote while overseeing his own election for governor against Democrat Stacey Abrams, which he won by a slim margin. (Two days after the election, amid charges of conflicts of interest, Kemp declared victory—although the race had yet to be called—and stepped down as secretary of state.) That included purging more than 2.2 million people from the voting rolls from 2012 to 2018, putting 53,000 voter registration applications on hold, and advising counties on how to close 214 polling places since the 2012 presidential election. These efforts disproportionately hurt voters of color, and Abrams said that allowed Kemp to “tilt the playing field in his favor.”
Barrow has vowed to reverse Kemp’s voting restrictions. He called Kemp’s voter purging “plainly illegal” and wrote in the AJC, “Any thing we do that makes it harder than necessary for honest citizens to register, stay registered, or vote undermines their right to vote.” He wants to get rid of Georgia’s electronic voting machines, which are vulnerable to election hacking, and replace them with paper ballots. His other immediate priority is to implement automatic voter registration to make it easier for voters to register and stay on the rolls.
In contrast, Raffensperger, an engineer and state representative since 2015, has been endorsed by President Donald Trump and supports Kemp’s restrictive policies. He says Barrow’s election would lead to “more illegal voting than ever,” even though there’s scant evidence of noncitizens voting in US elections. He called Kemp “a man of high integrity,” said he shouldn’t have resigned as secretary of state while running for governor, and dismissed the allegations of voter suppression as “unfounded and unfair.” Despite rampant problems on Election Day, which included three-hour lines in metro Atlanta and a dramatic increase in contested provisional ballots, Raffensperger said there were “actually very few precincts” with voting problems.
The challenges Georgians encountered at the polls in the governor’s race brought to light the importance of the usually-overlooked secretary of state’s office.
Democrats flipped secretary-of-state offices in Arizona, Colorado, and Michigan in 2018. These victories will help reshape voting laws in key swing states. But given the voter suppression we saw in Georgia in 2018—and with Kemp now governor—a victory for Barrow would be the most significant of the bunch.