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In leaked audio, Brian Kemp expresses “concern” over Georgians exercising their voting rights

The comments came as the Georgia secretary of state and GOP gubernatorial candidate spoke about voters turning out for Stacey Abrams.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp
Leaked audio of Georgia GOP gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp discussing his opponent’s voter outreach efforts is likely to add to ongoing complaints about voter suppression in Georgia.
Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Facing allegations of voter suppression, scrutiny from voting rights groups, and calls to resign from his opponent, Georgia secretary of state and current GOP gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp recently said that Stacey Abrams’s voter outreach effort “continues to concern us, especially if everybody uses and exercises their right to vote,” according to a new report.

Rolling Stone’s Jamil Smith reports that Kemp made the remarks during a ticketed October 19 “Georgia Professionals for Kemp” event held at Atlanta’s Blind Pig Parlour Bar, which was closed to the press. Someone who attended the event provided roughly 20 minutes of audio from Kemp’s speech to Rolling Stone.

Early in Kemp’s remarks, Smith reports, the gubernatorial candidate expressed concern about early voting in Georgia, particularly “the literally tens of millions of dollars that they [the Abrams campaign] are putting behind the get-out-the-vote effort to their base.”

Kemp also said that Abrams’s campaign had focused heavily on absentee ballots. “They have just an unprecedented number of that, which is something that continues to concern us,” he said, according to Rolling Stone. “Especially if everybody uses and exercises their right to vote — which they absolutely can — and mail those ballots in, we gotta have heavy turnout to offset that.”

Kemp’s campaign confirmed that the event did take place but did not respond to Rolling Stone’s requests for comment about the candidate’s remarks. Smith reports that a Facebook page for the event was no longer publicly accessible on Monday.

Kemp’s comments at the event were made public hours before he and Abrams, who could become America’s first black woman governor, face off in their first televised debate Tuesday evening. The Georgia race remains tight, with recent polling showing Kemp with a 2-point lead over Abrams, a figure within most polls’ margin of error.

News of Kemp’s remarks also comes as Kemp, whose office oversees voting and elections in Georgia, continues to face allegations of voter suppression and calls for his resignation from Abrams’s campaign and voting rights advocates. In recent weeks, Georgia has attracted national attention for a number of measures and practices that voting rights advocates say are aimed squarely at decreasing minority turnout in a close contest. Kemp’s recent remarks are likely to further aggravate those concerns.

Kemp’s remarks come as talk of voter suppression takes center stage in Georgia’s governor race

Georgia’s gubernatorial race has become center of a national debate about voting rights, with advocates arguing that the state is aiming to suppress minority turnout in an effort to control the Georgia government for years to come.

On October 9, the Associated Press reported that 53,000 voter registrations, 70 percent of them from black applicants, were being held by Kemp’s office for failing to clear an “exact match” process that compares registration information to Social Security and state driver records. On October 12, a coalition of civil rights groups filed a lawsuit calling for the end of the exact match program. Kemp’s secretary of state office defended the pending registrations, arguing that voters will still be able to cast a ballot if they present identification at the polls.

In addition to the exact match lawsuit, Kemp and election officials in Gwinnett County are facing a pair of federal lawsuits from civil rights groups who say the county is rejecting a high number of absentee ballots from African-American and Asian-American voters. According to CNN, the county rejected close to 600 ballots, more than a third of the total number of rejected ballots in the state, despite Gwinnett County accounting for just 6 percent of absentee ballots submitted in Georgia.

Kemp’s office is also under scrutiny for voter purges across the state. A significant number of voters were purged from the rolls in Georgia in the past five years. According to a report released this summer by the Brennan Center, Kemp’s office purged roughly 1.5 million registered voters between the 2012 and 2016 elections. The AP notes that Kemp’s office purged some 670,000 voters last year. A recent report from American Public Media finds that around 107,000 of these voters were purged due to a controversial “use it or lose it” law that removes voters from the rolls if they don’t vote for a certain amount of time.

In recent weeks, Kemp’s office has countered that much of the criticism of his office is misplaced, and that Abrams and other Democrats are “faking outrage for political gain” and attempting to hurt his campaign. “Despite any claim to the contrary, it has never been easier to register to vote in Georgia and actively engage in the electoral process,” Kemp noted in a recent press release.

Voting rights advocates and Abrams’s campaign are intensifying calls for Kemp to step down from office. “Brian Kemp is barely trying to hide the shameful fact that his strategy is to win through voter suppression,” Abigail Collazo, a communications director for Abrams’s campaign, told Rolling Stone.

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