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  • Desteny Martinez, 18, votes for the first time, in the U.S. congressional and gubernatorial midterm elections in Norwalk, California, United States, Oct. 24, 2018.

    Desteny Martinez, 18, votes for the first time, in the U.S. congressional and gubernatorial midterm elections in Norwalk, California, United States, Oct. 24, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 16 October 2018

In a hotly contested run for governor, 53,000 pending voter registrations could decide the winner of the governor of the U.S. state.

A coalition of civil rights lawyers is filing a federal lawsuit against a Georgia state policy that they say is disenfranchising minority voters. Currently, 53,000 voter registrations are pending approval.

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This comes as two candidates are running for governor of the state of Georgia: Democrat Stacey Abrams is a lawyer and former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, who could become the nation’s first Black female governor; and Republican Brian Kemp who is the current state-level secretary of state and a former state senator. He is responsible for what civil rights lawyers are saying is a discriminatory electoral practice.

The outcome could go either way, according to polls and analysis. However, the concerns boil down to whether over 50,000 people, mostly minorities, will be able to vote.

In Georgia, 53,000 new voter registrations are in limbo due to a strict electoral policy. Around 70 percent of those pending in the electoral system are people of color.

The “exact match” program requires that all voter registrations match DMV and Social Security records precisely. Even a misplaced hyphen can halt the process.

“The program suspends a person’s voting status if the information they enter on their voter registration form doesn’t precisely match state driver’s license and social security records,” says Brentin Mock of City Lab.

The program was instituted by State Secretary Kemp, who is currently in the running for governor. Kemp has been in office as state secretary since 2010 and presides over the state’s electoral system.

Kemp has come under fire for the program in the past. The Campaign Legal Center sued Georgia over the practice in 2016. It was struck down in February 2017, only to be reinstated April of that same year. According to the lawsuit, 35,000 voter applications had been rejected from 2013 to 2016.

Brian Kemp, Republican candidate for Georgia governor | Reuters

Laws like the “exact match” program had once been barred from taking effect under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That legislation was considered a monumental achievement of the civil rights era.

However, in 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court removed a key section of the act that had prevented racial discrimination in voting. In a 5-4 vote, the court had effectively dismantled the law.

Abrams has called for Kemp to resign, citing a conflict of interest. "Brian Kemp is maliciously wielding the power of his office to suppress the vote for political gain and silence the voices of thousands of eligible voters -- the majority of them people of color," spokeswoman Abigail Collazo said in a statement.

Stacey Abrams, Democratic candidate in Georgia's governor election | Reuters

A spokesperson for Kemp pushed back against the accusations saying that the pending status doesn't prevent people from voting. “They have 26 months to present additional information, or they can just show up and vote and present their photo ID as required by Georgia law. That information will be taken on the spot, and they’ll be able to vote,” said Ryan Mahoney, Kemp's communications coordinator.

As of Thursday, a legal coalition is seeking emergency relief for affected voters. They are concerned not just with the midterms, but that the ramifications could affect the 2020 presidential election.

“Because of the errors and limitations inherent in the “exact match” protocol, the 26-month cancellation requirement for “pending” applicants will undoubtedly result in the cancellation of pending applications that are facially complete and accurate before the 2020 Presidential election cycle.”

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