As It Happens

Georgia is engaging in 'stunning' levels of voter suppression, says local activist

The state is heading into the final weeks of a nationally-watched governor's race that's been marred by allegations of voter suppression at the hands of Republican candidate Brian Kemp.

Registrations of thousands of mostly black voters in limbo under Republican candidate's strict election laws

Democratic gubernatorial candidate for Georgia Stacey Abrams, left, speaks as her Republican opponent Secretary of State Brian Kemp looks on during a debate in Atlanta. (John Bazemore/Associated Press)

It may be 2018, but it "feels like 1818" in Georgia, says local activist Stacey Hopkins.

The state is heading into the final weeks of a nationally watched governor's race that's been marred by allegations of voter suppression at the hands of Republican candidate Brian Kemp. 

Democrat Stacey Abrams, who's trying to become the country's first black woman governor, is running against Kemp, Georgia's current secretary of state, who is in charge of election laws. 

Some 53,000 voter registrations were put on hold with Kemp's office, the Associated Press reported earlier this month, and 70 per cent of those belong to black voters. 

Kemp denies his strict voting laws are designed to suppress voters and wrote on Twitter than those with "pending" status can still vote on Nov. 6.

A judge on Wednesday ordered election officials to stop rejecting absentee ballots and applications because of a mismatched signature without first giving voters a chance to fix the problem, but Hopkins says that's just one small victory within a much larger battle for voter rights.

Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens guest host Megan Williams. 

It's 2018. In the U.S., how is it that voting rights are still such a contentious issue in an election?

From my perspective and from what happened to me personally, this could be 1818, and it is just completely stunning.

It just takes your breath away, what we are seeing right now, all of these manifestations of voter suppression occurring.

One of the sticking points is the state's "exact match" law. Tell me what that is.

This is a very strict metric that says how your ID must match your voter registration to the letter.

For example, my name is Stacey Hopkins. If my ID says "Stacey A. Hopkins" and my voter registration says "Stacey Hopkins," then the state can say, "Well, we're not sure this is the same person and we are going to put you in a pending status."

That means you have to once again prove your identity before you are allowed to vote. 

Stacey Hopkins and the ACLU challenged the state over its voter registration laws. The settlement, reached Jan. 31, preserved the voter registration status of about 159,000 Georgia voters. (Submitted by Stacey Hopkins)

And that leads to a number of voters, what? Not voting?

What we found is that there are those who are being placed on a pending status and they are not being notified in time for them to clear up their application.

The exact match law isn't the only controversy that's come up in the election. A judge has ruled that election officials must stop rejecting absentee ballots over mismatched signatures. Can you tell us what those are and if this is an encouraging ruling?

Yes, it was encouraging, but it is only a temporary balm.

The issue came up because we're seeing a disproportionate amount of absentee ballots being rejected because of the signature.

And the question became: When did election workers become handwriting experts?

Kemp is both the Republican candidate in Georgia and the person in charge of the state's election rules. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via Associated Press)

You had an experience of your own where your voter registration was put in jeopardy. Can you tell me what happened to you?

In July of 2017, I received a mailer. 

When I opened the notice, it said that "We have indications that you have moved and you need to fill this document out. ... If you do not fill this form out within 30 days, we will then move you to the inactive roles."

Now, that sentence clicked a whole lot of bells in my head because you cannot place anyone on the inactive rolls unless they have not voted in at least two federal cycles. We had just voted, so there was no way they could put us on the inactive list.

And I challenged that.

Abrams has repeatedly accused Kemp of suppressing voter rights to boost his own chance of winning. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

How did you challenge it?

I was so distressed that I took a picture of it. I put it on Twitter. The ACLU saw it. They contacted me asked if they could represent me in a case, and I agreed.

We challenged Secretary of State Kemp, who is our chief election officer, as well as my county.

ACLU decided to settle. ... I wanted to take this to court, but I was faced with a dilemma of there were 159,000 people who were in the same circumstances as I, and we were sort of in a limbo in terms of whether we'd be allowed to vote.

So in order for myself and the other 159,000 to be allowed to vote, I agreed to take the settlement.

But I am not happy with the outcome because Brian Kemp received no punishment.

He strongly denies that he's attempting to suppress the vote in any way. What's your response to him?

I was not an inactive voter, but I need to know why I was targeted. Because the only thing I can think of, I have three things: I am black, I am female and I tend to vote Democratic.

What memories does that evoke for you and for many black people in Georgia?

For me, that was so personal. You know, I'm a civil rights baby. I grew up during the most turbulent times of our history and I have a connection through my own family.

So if you don't want me to vote, you do not see me. And it's not one person, one vote. It's no person, no vote.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Associated Press. Produced by Imogen Birchard. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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