In a three-way Georgia gubernatorial debate last night, Republican candidate and current Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp said he would not recuse himself if the highly competitive election required a recount.
Recount would be overseen by candidate Kemp
As Georgia Secretary of State, Brian Kemp has direct oversight over the state’s election process. With voting rights and election integrity already prominent issues in the campaign, Kemp’s status as both candidate and election administrator has raised concerns.
Those concerns were heightened last night when the Greg Bluestein of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution directed his first question of the night to Kemp about the possibility of a recount:
“Your office is required by law to direct a recount,” Bluestein began. “Would you recuse yourself if a recount is necessary?”
In a long, rambling reply, Kemp declined to answer the question directly, but did imply that to recuse himself would somehow be a dereliction of duty.
“I took an oath of office to serve as Secretary of State,” Kemp began, “and that’s exactly what I’m going to continue to do.
“As anyone who knows about elections in Georgia, it’s our county elections officials that are actually holding the election, which is going on right now and on election day. Their local bi-partisan election boards tally the votes. They’re certified at the local and then hand-delivered to our office so I’m doing the exact same thing that Democrat Cathy Cox was doing when she was running for Governor.
“You know,” Kemp continued, “if we have the instance of a recount, that’s automatic by state law if lower than 1 percent. That again is something that the counties do. And we’ve got a very competent elections team to oversee that process and I’m certain that there’d be a lot of people watching that. And I have staked my integrity for my whole career on the duty that I have as Secretary of State. I’ve always followed and fulfilled the laws of our state and I’ll continue to do that through the tenure of my service to this great state. Thank you.”
Fact-checking Brian Kemp’s statement
Kemp’s reply to Greg Blustein’s question appears to contain several inconsistencies (some subtle, some not so subtle).
- An official recusing themselves from a conflict of interest does not conflict with their oath of office. If anything, handing the oversight of any recount over to another qualified official is arguably more in line with Kemp’s duty as Secretary of State than to cast further doubt over the electoral process.
- Former Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox did run for governor in 2006, but was defeated in the Democratic primary. She did not oversee the general election for governor, or a recount for that election.
- Former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, who succeeded Cox, also ran for governor in 2010. Before doing so she resigned as Secretary of State, removing any perceived conflict of interest from her campaign. The beneficiary of this vacancy was… Brian Kemp, who was appointed by Governor Sonny Purdue to replace Handel.
- Kemp’s claim that he has always followed the law as Secretary of State is at best contentious. As one of the most controversial holders of an office already prone to controversy, Kemp has been sued repeatedly by various groups for failures to follow the law. In 2015, acting as Secretary of State, he settled a federal lawsuit that accused him of disenfranchising thousands of Georgia voters. A lawsuit accusing Kemp of leaving six million Georgia voters exposed to identity theft is still pending.
- In Kemp’s statement he argues that the election is really overseen at the county level before then saying that the oversight of the election done at the state level would be subject to intense scrutiny. This is classic bait-and-switch sophistry.
Kemp’s other voting rights controversy of the day
Hours before yesterday’s debate, leaked audio of comments made by Kemp at a recent campaign event stoked more fears that he is conflicted in his dual role as candidate and election official.
According to the Rolling Stone, Kemp told supporters at an October 19th “Professionals for Kemp” gathering that efforts by his opponent Stacey Abrams to increase voter participation were a concern.
Speaking of absentee ballot requests in particular, Kemp said, “They have just an unprecedented number of that, 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.”
As is the case with a recount, Kemp’s position as Secretary of State gives him direct oversight of the absentee ballot process as well. The conflict of interest leaves what would be a routine statement by any other candidate open to a more sinister interpretation.
But worries about sinister interpretations have never been a major concern for the Kemp campaign.
And Kemp famously launched his gubernatorial bid with a campaign ad depicting him holding a shotgun on his lap while asking a teenage boy about his intentions to his daughter.
See the full debate between Republican Brian Kemp, Democrat Stacey Abrams, and Libertarian Ted Metz below: