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Brian Kemp, Georgia Secretary of State and the Republican nominee for Georgia governor, expressed at a ticketed campaign event that his Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams’ voter turnout operation “continues to concern us, especially if everybody uses and exercises their right to vote,” according to audio obtained by Rolling Stone.
An attendee of the “Georgia Professionals for Kemp” event says they recorded 21 minutes and 12 seconds of the evening, held last Friday at the Blind Pig Parlour Bar near Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood. As proof of their attendance, the source shared with Rolling Stone a receipt of their donation, which granted access to the gathering.
Not long after Kemp began his remarks, the candidate expressed worry about early voting and “the literally tens of millions of dollars that they [the Abrams camp] are putting behind the get-out-the-vote effort to their base.”
Kemp then asserted that much of that Abrams effort is focused on absentee ballot requests. “They have just an unprecedented number of that,” he said, “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.”
On Tuesday morning, a member of the Kemp campaign confirmed that the event took place, but the campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the specific remarks. On Monday evening, a Facebook page for the event was removed from public view. Candice Broce, the press secretary for the Georgia Secretary of State, told Rolling Stone that she does not respond to campaign-related inquiries because she represents the office.
It is fairly typical for a political candidate expressing confidence in his campaign to lament his opponent’s efforts to increase turnout. But Kemp’s position as Georgia’s Secretary of State clouds his statements. While it is not uncommon for someone in such a position to be on a ballot during an election that he or she oversees — they do have to run for re-election, after all — the state’s top elections official speaking of “concern” about increased early and absentee voting raises further questions about a conflict of interest.
Kemp’s recent decision to suspend more than 53,000 voter applications, 70 percent of which were filed by black residents, for violating the state’s “exact match” verification standard has drawn attention to his penchant for restrictive voter laws and purging of voter rolls. American Public Media reported last week that Kemp purged an estimated 107,000 voters last year simply because they didn’t vote in the prior election. He is also being sued for leaving more than 6 million Georgia voting records open to hacking.
Kemp, a staunch Trump supporter who has echoed the president’s language concerning Russia’s election interference, was also the only Secretary of State in the nation to refuse Homeland Security’s help prior to the 2016 election.
One other reason that Kemp’s “right to vote” line is potentially alarming is that he is facing another lawsuit after reports that an abnormal number of absentee ballots— 595, more than a third of the state’s total and 300 of which reportedly belong to black and Asian American voters — have been rejected in the state’s most racially diverse county, Gwinnett. The Georgia Muslim Voter Project and Asian-American Advancing Justice-Atlanta filed suit last Monday to request that three days be provided after the election for rejected voters to resolve the matter so that their ballots count.
All of these reports have led to charges that Kemp is suppressing votes; in his Friday remarks, he alleged that Abrams is doing the same. Urging attendees to reach out to people to help him gain support, Kemp said, “If they email back and say, ‘I’m a conservative, Republican female, and I’ve gotten 15 mailers talking about how bad Brian Kemp is,’ that’s somebody we need to talk to. [Be]cause they are doing that for a reason. They are doing that to suppress your vote.”
Reached for comment, Abigail Collazo, Director of Strategic Communications for the Abrams campaign, said, “Brian Kemp is barely trying to hide the shameful fact that his strategy is to win through voter suppression. The idea that he, as Secretary of State, would be ‘concerned’ that hardworking Georgians are exercising their right to vote is disgraceful and outrageous.”
Collazo echoed her campaign’s earlier calls for Kemp to step down.
“Brian Kemp should resign immediately so that Georgians can be sure the election will be administered in an impartial and competent manner,” she said.
This article originally appeared here, on Rolling Stone.