After the Georgia secretary of state certified Republican Brian Kemp’s victory in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election on Nov. 17, Emory students and professors are grappling with the aftermath of a hectic election that called into question Georgia’s voting rights laws and election oversight.
The secretary of state officially announced Kemp as the governor-elect after a court-mandated review of rejected ballots yielded an additional 650 absentee and 82 provisional ballots to be counted in the race, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Kemp won 50.22 percent of the vote, compared to Abrams’ 48.83 percent, a difference of 54,723 ballots, according to the secretary of state’s official vote count.
Abrams ended her campaign in a Nov. 16 speech, but she refused to issue an official concession. Instead, she vowed to file another lawsuit seeking to reform the way Georgia runs elections with her newly formed nonprofit, Fair Fight Georgia.
“Let’s be clear: This is not a speech of concession,” Abrams said, according to the Associated Press. “Because concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede that.”
Kemp came under fire for refusing to step down as Georgia secretary of state and for alleging that state Democrats hacked Georgia’s voting system days before the election without any proof. During the campaign, Kemp said he opposed Medicaid expansion and increasing gun control. The governor-elect, who received President Donald J. Trump’s endorsement, called for “the toughest abortion laws in the country,” cracking down on crime and illegal immigration, improving economic opportunities in rural areas and cutting income taxes.
Co-President of student group Young Democrats of Emory Brett Kleiman (20C) said he supported Abrams’ decision to end her campaign without issuing a formal concession. Kleiman said his organization, which campaigned on Abrams’ behalf, wishes Kemp a successful tenure as governor but they are prepared to disagree with Kemp as needed.
“We are proud of all the work that we and organizers like us have put in for the past year,” a Nov. 16 statement from the Young Democrats of Emory’s Facebook reads. “True political progress doesn’t happen overnight or even during one cycle, and [our] fight continues. We look forward to continuing that fight with you.”
Student group Emory College Republicans Vice President Brad Bennett (22C) called for unity in Georgia after a divisive election, adding that he supported Abrams’ lawsuit.
“We come from a lot of different places, but right now we’re all Georgians. We need to support our new governor even if we don’t agree with him,” Bennett said. “[But] I believe in due process. If it could come to fruition for her to end up winning a voter suppression lawsuit, then by all means see it out.”
However, Bennett emphasized that any claims of voter suppression or misconduct should be judged in a court of law rather than a court of public opinion.
“As far as the illegitimacy of Kemp’s victory, that’s for a court to decide, not us,” Bennett said. “I believe it’s a legal battle, not a public opinion one. … I think that [Kemp’s] intent was purely democratic.”
Looking forward, Charles Howard Candler Professor and Chair of the African American Studies Department Carol Anderson called on all Georgians to vote in the Dec. 4 runoff for Georgia secretary of state between Democrat John Barrow and Republican Brad Raffensperger. During the general election, Raffensperger led Barrow in the vote count by 16,278 ballots but failed to secure the majority of the vote necessary to avoid a runoff.
“To all students — look at [the candidates’] platforms,” Anderson said. “See who believes in democracy, see who doesn’t, and vote accordingly. [If] we get a secretary of state that believes in democracy, we can begin to undo this madness.”
Raffensperger, a Georgia state representative from Johns Creek, Ga., has indicated that he will continue Kemp’s track of tightening voter ID laws and purging voters. Barrow has called for less strict voter ID laws and updating voting machines.
Anderson said she also believes Kemp’s victory is questionable because he refused to resign as secretary of state during the race.
“[Kemp] did not have the integrity nor the ethics to step down,” Anderson said. “By being there, the election was already compromised. His ascension to power was more important [to him] than the integrity of the process itself.”
Anderson added that Kemp’s behavior undermined America’s democratic system and that she supported Abrams’ refusal to concede.
“When you have an illegitimate regime, bad things happen,” Anderson said. “I am proud of [Abrams] for standing up and calling it what it is.”
Anderson said Kemp’s victory as governor is detrimental to all Georgians, not just minorities.
“It’s not just for minorities,” Anderson said. “When democracy is twisted, when it is hijacked, it doesn’t just affect one sector in the state — it affects democracy. It affects everybody there.”