Horrified gasps and angry outcries were heard throughout the screening of Robert Greenwald’s SUPPRESSED: The Fight to Vote (Brave New Films) in Sandy Springs, Georgia two weeks ago. “It hurts like hell, the rooted injustice,” shared Isabel Hildago, a Fulton County voter. Viewers were shocked at the depth and breadth of voter suppression in the state they thought they knew. “It’s like an authoritarian dictatorship. I can’t believe this is happening here in Georgia – in America,” fumed a Cobb County voter. It’s no wonder civil rights advocates refer to Georgia as “ground zero of voter suppression.” Greenwald’s film and attendees tell us why.
“We have to get involved in someone else’s head,” declared guest speaker Le’Dor Milteer. In 2018, L’Dor, a black woman, ran for Sandy Springs City Council in a predominantly white city. Milteer is now featured in Viola Davis’ new series, It’s a Man’s World (Bravo). For two days, using makeup and prosthetics, women go undercover as men. When the call came asking her to participate in the series, Le’Dor was shocked, “Bravo wants to hear from a politician who lost an election?” Attendees felt Le’Dor Milteer’s bright spirit, determination and charisma light up the room – so we understand why Bravo called.
Shea Roberts, candidate for Georgia D52 and the North Fulton Democrats hosted the screening. At a similar event last year “maybe 10-12 people attended,” reported Shea. This time, the room was filled to capacity. “I’ve never seen so much engagement in my life!”
Record Number of Registrations!
In September 2016, Georgia quietly changed the voter registration process from “opt-in” to “opt-out.” What does this mean? When obtaining a Georgia’s driver’s license, residents will automatically be registered to vote. This small change had a big impact – 7 million voters registered, a record high!
How did Brian Kemp, the Secretary of State, react to these record registrations? One evening in July 2017, Kemp purged 500,000 Georgians from the voter rolls, another record high.
Before going on, let’s take a quick trip back to the beginning…
From Blue to Red via Diebold Voting Machines
Upon the installation of Diebold Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) Voting System in 2002, districts in Georgia that had been blue for 145 years, suddenly turned red. At the time, cybersecurity experts sent up red flares about Diebold DREs, in particular their backdoor access and lack of a paper trail. Secretary of State Cathy Cox ignored the warnings. Why? At the time of purchase, Cox’s picture was featured in Diebold ads, and her former boss was a Diebold lobbyist. The Election Director under Cox, Kathy Rogers, left to work for Diebold in 2006. Clear corruption.
In fact, Georgia’s current governor, Brian Kemp, owes his political career to Diebold voting machines. In 2002, he unseated the incumbent Democrat in a left-leaning district by 468 votes. The miniscule margin should have triggered a recount, but conveniently for Kemp, Diebold machines can’t be audited – they leave no paper trail.
Fast forward to 2019, Republicans dominate all three branches government in Georgia. No checks and balances. No balance of power. Today, Georgia is not only ground zero for voter suppression, it is also, according to election security advocate, Jenny Cohn, the Epicenter of America’s Corrupted Electronic Elections. It may be the 21st century, but Georgia’s leaders keep the state rooted in the South’s dark past. In 2018, Slate called it: “Kemp’s bid for governor depends on erasing the black vote.” The “erasures” worked in 2018, but not as well as Kemp had hoped.
Ground Zero – Poll Closings
In 2018 the national spotlight turned on Georgia when Randolph County, a predominantly African-American, poor, rural county planned to close 7 out of 9 poll locations right before the midterms. Some residents would have had to travel up to 30 miles to vote. The proposed closures were a clear effort to disenfranchise minority voters. With national attention and pressure from voter advocate groups, the Randolph County Board of Elections ultimately voted down the proposal.
The Randolph County closings were the recommendation of election consultant, Mike Malone, a close associate of Brian Kemp. At the time, Kemp, as the Georgia Secretary of State, was overseeing elections while also running for governor. “Like the umpire playing in the game” (SUPPRESSED). The blatant conflict of interest led to demands for his recusal, but Kemp refused to step-down.
Did you know? In 2013, the US Supreme Court (5-4) gutted parts of the 1965 Voters’ Rights Act that required counties to obtain federal approval before closing polls in minority areas. President Obama immediately asked Congress to pass legislation “to ensure every American has equal access to the polls.” They didn’t.
Long poll lines in minority communities are commonplace in Georgia. When Stacey Abrams challenged Brian Kemp, the lines broke records. SUPPRESSED shows black voters waiting up to 6 HOURS to vote. Many were denied use of restrooms. The hashtag #StayInLine connected and supported voters during the excruciating wait times. “The research is crystal clear – They want people to go home” (SUPPRESSED). White communities? Plenty of voting machines, few lines. Prof. Richard DeMillo, Chairman of Computer Sciences at Georgia Tech reported that in his district in North Fulton (predominantly white), “There were more voting machines than anyone could ever use.”
Exact Match – 53,000 Voters Purged
Conveniently for Brian Kemp, voter registration also fell under the purview of the Secretary of State. SUPPRESSED examines how Exact Match was used to reject minority voters, both prior to Election Day and at the polls. Exact Match required names written on voters’ ID exactly match their voter registration. Any tiny discrepancy flagged their registrations. While running for governor, Brian Kemp put “a hold” on 53,000 voter registrations based on these discrepancies. Minorities compose 32% of the Georgia population, but 80% of the voters “on hold” were black, Latino and Asian. “Once you’re removed from the rolls, you can’t vote,” said Sean Young, Director ACLU of Georgia.
SUPPRESSED featured Dr. Carlos del Rio, Chairman of Global Health at Emory University, who was told at the polls he wasn’t registered and couldn’t vote. Why? His driver’s license says “delRio,” but his name on the voter roll was “del Rio.” The professor explained to the poll manager that spaces aren’t allowed on Georgia’s drivers licenses. Dr. del Rio, also knows Georgia’s voting laws. He was permitted to vote. An exception to the Georgia rule.
Deborah Brown’s district includes residents like Carlos del Rio, doctors and professors. She’s been a local poll worker for a 1½ years. At the Tuesday evening screening, Deborah shared an incident from the previous week’s municipal election. Her Dekalb district is predominately white – but also 80% Democratic. (Democrats in Georgia are purged at a rate 4X that of Republicans.) A white married couple, in their thirties, arrived together to vote. They’d both voted at that location previously. Nevertheless, Georgia’s electronic registration system said the husband had to vote at a different location. Deborah and the poll manager couldn’t figure out why. They didn’t see any “exact match” discrepancies.
Could this be an incident of voter suppression, Deborah wondered? There was only one question on the ballot that day. A GOP contingency had proposed a referendum that would essentially gut the power of the county’s Ethics Committee, an all too familiar story these days.
The poll manager that day was a male, white, conservative Christian. According to Deborah, he is consistent in his beliefs. The poll manager steadfastly refuses to allow his political peers to stand in the way of every American’s Constitutional right to vote. The husband was permitted to vote. An exception to the Georgia rule. (The referendum was voted down 454-38!)
A Small Victory: The Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda sued Kemp over the 53,000 purged voter registrations. On the Friday before Election Day 2018, a Federal Judge ordered SOS Kemp to release the registrations and give voters an opportunity to rectify the discrepancies. In April 2019, now Governor Kemp had to sign a law forbidding exact match discrepancies from automatically purging voters’ registrations. This law did NOT eliminate Exact Match, just the automatic removal process.
Provisional Ballots Not Counted
Provisional ballots are handmarked paper ballots (HMPB) that should be provided to voters at the polls when there is an issue with voters’ registrations. During the 2018 elections, provisional ballots were handed out as pacifiers. By law, Georgia voters must bring proof of citizenship to their county’s election office within three days in order for their vote to count. SUPPRESSED featured minority voters who were not given this information. When voters called election offices asking if their provisional ballots had been counted, they were told they weren’t, and they didn’t know why. Audience members shared similar stories. One viewer, an experienced poll worker, “Poll workers hate provisional ballots. They’re a lot of work. We’re relieved at the end of the day if there aren’t any.”
Absentee Ballots Tossed
“In 2018, 97% of new absentee ballots were from Democratic counties – outperforming Presidential years” (SUPPRESSED). Another way to “erase” minority and opposition voters was delaying or not sending out Absentee Ballot forms. SUPPRESED Asian, Hispanic and black students who never received their absentee ballot forms. An African American veteran, who voted via absentee ballot during his two tours oversees, did not receive his absentee ballot form on time in 2018. He was stationed in South Carolina.
A large number of voters applied for and submitted absentee ballots due to concerns about the safety and validity of Georgia’s electronic voting system. “You can’t hack pen and paper,” said Megan Missett, a screening attendee. Despite voter complaints of machines vote flipping, self-selection and inaccuracies – as well as 17 years of warnings from computer scientists and cybersecurity experts, Georgia continued to use antiquated, unreliable Diebold DRE voting machines. Absentee ballots were seen as a safer alternative – sort of.
With the record number of absentee ballots submitted, Brian Kemp reacted by tossing out tens of thousands of absentee ballots due to signature mismatches. Voter advocate groups sued. During the hearing, Federal Judge Leigh Martin May doubted that her signature as an 18 year-old first-time voter, matches her signature today. The Judge ordered an injunction stating no absentee ballot could be rejected due to signature mismatches. Voters must be given an opportunity to address the discrepancies.
By Hook or By Crook
Ultimately, Brian Kemp was declared the winner of the 2018 race for Georgia governor with 1,978,408 votes. Stacey Abrams received 1,923,685 votes. A difference of 54,723 votes. It’s estimated that over a million voters were suppressed prior to the 2018 Midterms. We can do the math. Brian Kemp took his first seat in government by hook and his current seat by crook. It is crystal clear why Stacey Abrams did not concede without a fight – a fight not for herself, but for every Georgian’s right to vote and have that vote counted.
“Let’s be clear, this is not a speech of concession…To watch an elected official who claims to represent the people in this state baldly pin his hopes for election on the suppression of the people’s democratic right to vote has been truly appalling.”
A Historic WIN and Another Fight
After the odd and error-ridden results of the 2017 Special Election in Georgia’s 6th District (Ossoff v. Handel) advocate groups, including the Coalition for Good Governance sued Secretary of State Kemp. He then wiped the election server clean of all evidence. Nevertheless, the plaintiffs persisted. In August this year, Federal Judge Amy Totenberg ruled Georgia’s Diebold DRE Voting System “unconstitutional.”
Meanwhile, Governor Kemp and current Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger have purchased another hugely expensive electronic voting system – Dominion Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs.) All cybersecurity experts agree BMDs are unreliable and vulnerable. They can’t be audited because votes are translated into barcodes, and humans can’t read barcodes. Another lawsuit is underway.
Director Robert Greenwald Responds by Email:
Mr. Greenwald, founder and president of Brave New films, made SUPPRESSED “because it was clear that Georgia’s 2018 election was a laboratory for tactics and policies that could be deployed nationally in 2020 to disenfranchise minority, low-income and student voters.” Interviewing suppressed voters provides viewers with a greater depth of understanding of how Georgia voters were affected on the ground – ground zero.
Brave New Films mission is to “lift up overlooked stories of critical importance. Many of the issues we highlight whether it’s restorative justice, voter suppression, cash bail or immigration reform, disproportionally impact minority and low-income communities. We always work to put a human face on policies and to connect the dots.” – Robert Greenwald, Director.
Georgia voters are grateful to Mr. Greenwald and Brave New Films. Their extraordinary work is making a significant and positive difference. Thank you.
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