One person, one vote – that is the ideal that distinguishes our democracy from dictatorships and other, lesser forms of government. And once again, it is under attack in Georgia.
Earlier this week, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp issued a subpoena to the New Georgia Project, a non-partisan organization dedicated to voter registration. Apparently unsatisfied with the results of the voter suppression virus his fellow Republicans have unleashed, he has decided to attack the antidote.
The New Georgia Project was launched as a direct response to Georgia’s decision to join other states that have revived the long-dormant practice of passing laws to suppress the vote. Georgia was one of the first states to introduce a restrictive voter ID law as the tea party came to power in 2011. In 2013, just after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, a number of Georgia municipalities responded by eliminating voting sites and changing election dates in ways proven to decrease voter participation.
When the toll of these tricks and restrictions became clear, the New Georgia Project was created to revive the American ideal of one person, one vote. Its goal: to register more than 100,000 voters from the very communities most targeted by voter suppression in the state, Blacks, Latinos and Asian Americans. The organization is on track to accomplish that goal. As of last week, these pro-democracy Georgians had registered nearly 86,000 of their neighbors, from 151 of the state’s 159 counties.
Any self-respecting secretary of state should have thanked them for their work – after all, the core mission of the office is to ensure that the principle of one person, one vote is upheld. Sadly, it seems Secretary Kemp is more concerned about petty partisanship than the principle that has made this nation our world’s greatest democracy.
Just this summer, Secretary Kemp told a group of fellow Republicans that he worried about Democrats’ chances in the upcoming elections. According to a video that surfaced just yesterday, Kemp told his colleagues “… the Democrats are working hard, and all these stories about them, you know, registering all these minority voters that are out there and others that are sitting on the sidelines, if they can do that, they can win these elections in November.”
This week, he issued a subpoena to the New Georgia Project designed to halt it in its tracks.
In an official statement Tuesday, Secretary Kemp claimed that he was justified in his subpoena because of complaints of voter fraud. But his claim rings false with the same hollow tone as the claims of voter fraud made by ALEC and other groups seeking to rationalize their attempts to suppress the vote. The New Georgia Project was launched in full compliance with the law in order to address a staggering and unacceptable gap in voter registration rates between whites and people of color. According to the group’s leaders, they have been cooperating and coordinating with the secretary of state’s office all year, voluntarily putting in place a rigorous internal quality control procedure to ensure that incomplete or potentially inaccurate applications were flagged for the authorities.
None of that mattered to Brian Kemp, though. In fact, it is likely that he would not have been satisfied if he personally tagged along with every organizer who knocked on doors and passed out registration forms. In order to preserve the integrity of his office, Secretary Kemp should rescind the subpoena and focus on processing the tens of thousands of new applications coming in every month across the state.
At the end of the day, the New Georgia Project is doing what the secretary of state should be doing: helping fellow Georgians register to vote and empowering them by bringing them more fully into the democratic process. Secretary of State Brian Kemp, on the other hand, has chosen to degrade his office by using it to advance the interest of his party – not his state, nor his country, nor the constitution he has sworn to uphold and protect.
Benjamin Todd Jealous is a Partner at Kapor Capital and the former president and CEO of the NAACP.