WASHINGTON — In September 2017, Georgia’s then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp circulated a news report about problems with local officials’ attempts to challenge voter registrations.
“Good work, this story is so complex folks will not make it all the way through it,” Kemp, who was running for governor at the time, wrote in the subject line of his email to campaign advisers.
His campaign aide, David Dove, agreed. Dove suggested that the reporter “wrote this to appease her folks on the left but this won’t help draw eyeballs.”
Another email exchange between Kemp and his campaign advisers in October 2017 appeared to mock a press release from Democrat Stacey Evans warning that Georgia was systematically deleting voter registrations.
Dove forwarded the press release to Kemp, writing “us” next to emojis depicting laughter. Kemp replied, writing “us” next to another emoji.
The emails were released Wednesday as part of a report from the U.S. House Oversight Committee into voter suppression in minority communities.
The committee said that it found “concerning information about voter suppression in Georgia,” as a result of its investigation.
Documents provided to the committee show that state election officials publicly claimed to lack authority over polling locations, “while behind the scenes they were advising counties on closing, moving, and consolidating polling sites,” the report says.
House watchdogs wrote that state officials had stonewalled their investigation. Although officials sent thousands of pages of documents to the committee, about 99% of them were court filings, news clippings, and other publicly available documents. The secretary of state and governor’s offices acknowledged that they were withholding more than 1,400 responsive documents from the committee, including emails involving Kemp, according to the report.
A Kemp spokesman acknowledged a request for comment Wednesday but did not offer a response to this story.
Kemp targeted by congressional Dems
House Democrats assailed the Georgia Republican governor at a Capitol Hill hearing Wednesday on voter suppression in minority communities.
“In Georgia, Secretary of State Brian Kemp purged more than half a million voters from the rolls and blocked the registrations of thousands more — all while running for Governor,” said House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).
She said the emails obtained by her committee “show that Mr. Kemp and a top campaign aide congratulated each other for confusing the public about their illegal voter roll purges. They also gleefully celebrated as they made it harder for hundreds of thousands of Americans to vote. They even used laughing and smiling emojis in a sickening display of derision.”
Georgia Republican Rep. Jody Hice, who sits on the House Oversight Committee, defended his state’s record on access to the polls.
“It has never been easier to register or to vote in the state of Georgia. In fact, this last election, all demographic groups had record number turnouts. That’s because of the efforts that have taken place in Georgia to make voter registration and voting easier and more accessible to everyone.”
House Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who represents Washington, D.C., said that Georgia had indeed “succeeded in ridding the state of some of its practices. We know that some of that is true because Democrats took back this House last year,” she told Hice.
“That would not have happened unless many African Americans had insisted on overcoming barriers, barriers like purging,” she added.
Still, Holmes Norton pointed to the “extraordinary number” of voters in Georgia who had been purged from voter rolls as officials said they sought to eliminate voter fraud. In 2017, the Georgia Secretary of State’s office under Kemp purged more than 500,000 voter registrations, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said during the committee hearing Thursday that Kemp had “reportedly purged more than half a million voters from the rolls, locked thousands of new registrations and closed polling places, all while he was a candidate for governor.”
Ocasio-Cortez asked one of the witnesses — Marcia Johnson-Blanco, co-director of the voting rights project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law — what she thought of Kemp congratulating his team in the emails released by the committee.
“I’m speechless,” Johnson-Blanco said.