In the case of the Georgia gubernatorial election, narrowly lost by African-American activist Stacey Abrams, it's unquestionably the latter. A cottage industry has grown up around declaring the outcome a stain on our nation.
Carol Anderson of Emory University deemed the state's election system "neo-Jim Crow." Dan Rather found the gubernatorial vote in Georgia "a deeply troubling challenge to American democracy," and said if it were "a foreign country there would be a call for international inspectors." Georgia has become a byword for "voter suppression," which is presumed to be why Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican, will soon occupy the governor's mansion.
The critics advance myriad reasons why the result in Georgia isn't legitimate:
They complain that Kemp ran for governor while he was still secretary of state. Yes, but Georgia's constitution allows for that, and it's been done before. In the 2000s, Democrat Cathy Cox ran for her party's gubernatorial nomination while serving as secretary of state. Kemp ran for re-election twice while simultaneously occupying the office, with no one seriously alleging malfeasance. In any case, localities count the votes, not the secretary of state's office.
They say Kemp's confessed his true, untoward feelings about voting when he expressed "concern" about Abrams pushing absentee voting. But the full quote from Kemp speaking at a Republican event is: "They have just an unprecedented number of [absentee ballot requests], which is something that continues to concern us, 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." Trying to motivate your side to vote to counteract the other side's voting is the opposite of voter suppression.
They allege that Kemp shut down polling places. It's true, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, that 214 precincts have closed in Georgia since 2012. It's just not the handiwork of Brian Kemp. Counties make the decisions about whether or not to shutter polling places. It's usually cash-strapped rural areas that consolidate precincts to eliminate underutilized polling places and locations that don't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
When a controversy exploded over a proposal to close seven of nine precincts in tiny, majority-black Randolph County, Kemp came out publicly and opposed the plan. (As it happens, Randolph voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but Donald Trump won five of the seven precincts slated for closure).
They charge that Kemp kept people in voting limbo over minor registration errors. Under Georgia's so-called exact-match law, if information on a voter registration doesn't match a driver's license, state ID card or Social Security records, the voter has a little over two years to clear up the discrepancy. Until then, the voter is put into the "pending file" (53,000 people were on it). This isn't a prohibition from voting. If the voter shows up at a polling place with an ID verifying his information (mandatory in Georgia, regardless), there isn't an issue.
Finally, they object to Kemp's enforcement of Georgia's "use it or lose it" rule. A similar law in Ohio was upheld by the Supreme Court earlier this year. It's hardly punitive. If you haven't voted for three years, you get notified in the mail. If you don't reply and then don't vote in the next two federal elections, you are struck from the rolls. This happened to an estimated 100,000 people last year who, judging by their behavior, were nonvoters rather than voters.
Every indication is that Stacey Abrams lost fair and square in an election where everyone knew the rules beforehand, and they weren't unreasonable. She's nonetheless being hailed for not conceding, and her loss will always be taken as an indictment of Georgia rather than the verdict of voters.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: [email protected]
(c) 2018 by King Features Syndicate.