The two adversaries could be forced into a runoff election next month if neither candidate secures at least 50 per cent of the vote from Tuesday’s race for governor. It’s a dispute that threatens to drag out an already bitter fight.
The stakes are high in Georgia, where Abrams is attempting to become the first black female governor in the United States, while Kemp is trying to extend more than a decade of Republican control. He was secretary of state and the top elections official until Thursday when he resigned to prepare for the governor’s job.
WATCH: Brian Kemp ‘has purged an unprecedented number of voters’: Stacey Abrams campaign
Kemp’s campaign declared victory Wednesday night, and outgoing Gov. Nathan Deal anointed him the “governor-elect” on Thursday.
Kemp says he “won a clear and convincing victory,” but Abrams has refused to concede.
WATCH: Stacey Abrams campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said Thursday opponent Brian Kemp owes voters an explanation
Kemp appeared to lead the governor’s race with 50.3 per cent of 3.9 million votes, giving him a 63,000-vote edge (1.6 percentage points) over Abrams in Tuesday’s results. That’s a small margin of victory given the large election turnout, but it’s still enough to claim victory through a majority of the vote.
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But Abrams argues there are still tens of thousands of votes left to count — perhaps enough to push Kemp’s tally below 50 per cent and force a runoff, in which the two candidates would go head-to-head in another election on Dec. 4. Libertarian Ted Metz, who secured approximately 37,000 votes (0.9 per cent), would not be part of the race.
The dispute comes down to how many uncounted ballots actually remain.
Kemp said on Thursday that there are fewer than 21,000 ballots left to count. “Even if she got 100 per cent of those votes, we still win,” Kemp told reporters.
Abrams’ campaign argues that total could be higher and that the secretary of state’s office has been reluctant to share the details of the final ballot count. Officials in Georgia’s 159 counties continue to go over the results.
County elections officials have until Tuesday to certify the final results, and the state must certify those same results by Nov. 20.
Critics say the voting process in Georgia was rife with issues such as malfunctioning voting machines, missing power cords and overly long lineups at the polls.
Several voting rights groups have launched lawsuits over the race, alleging that Kemp used the secretary of state’s office to interfere in the election for his own benefit. Kemp has vehemently denied those accusations.
WATCH BELOW: Abrams’ team vows to fight until every vote is counted
Through a process that Kemp calls voter roll maintenance and his opponents call voter roll purges, Kemp’s now-former office has cancelled over 1.4 million voter registrations since 2012. Nearly 670,000 registrations were cancelled in 2017 alone.
Abrams has accused Kemp of voter suppression. Kemp said he was trying to protect Georgia elections from voter fraud.
“It has never been easier to vote in our state,” Kemp’s campaign spokesman Ryan Mahoney said in a statement in early October. “Kemp is fighting to protect the integrity of our elections and ensure that only legal citizens cast a ballot.”
Kemp has also faced criticism for the state’s “exact match” voter ID policy, which requires voter applications to precisely match information on file with the Georgia Department of Driver Services or the Social Security Administration. Election officials could place an application on hold over discrepancies as small as a typo or a dropped hyphen.
An analysis of the records obtained by the Associated Press reveals racial disparity in the process. Georgia’s population is approximately 32 per cent black, according to the U.S. Census, but the list of voter registrations that were on hold with Kemp’s office last month was nearly 70 per cent black.
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Voters whose applications are frozen in “pending” status have 26 months to fix any issues before their application is cancelled, and can still cast a provisional ballot.
But critics say the system has a high error rate and unfairly affects black people.
“We’ve shown that this process disproportionately prevents minority applicants from getting on the voter registration rolls,” Julie Houk, special counsel for the Washington-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told AP last month. With that in mind, she called it “kind of astounding” that Georgia legislators wrote it into state law in 2017.
State Rep. Barry Fleming, who authored the state law enabling “exact match,” said in a statement that it’s authorized under federal law, and courts have upheld a similar law in Florida.
Florida is currently facing potential recounts in its senate and governor races.
Abrams’ attorneys have vowed to continue their fight in Georgia.
A federal court heard one lawsuit on Thursday demanding that Kemp be barred from overseeing the rest of the certification procedure. However, that lawsuit was rendered moot when Kemp resigned.
Kemp said his resignation “will give confidence to the certification process.”
He also dismissed criticism of his involvement in the election, pointing out that 1.4 million more people voted Tuesday than in the last governor’s race.
Abrams is urging her supporters to contact the voter protection hotline to ensure that their provisional ballots were counted.
“One vote could be the difference between a loss, a runoff, or a victory,” she tweeted on Wednesday.
U.S. President Donald Trump backed Kemp’s claim in a tweet on Friday. “He won,” Trump tweeted. “It is time to move on!”
The president mocked the ballot-counting process in both states where his Republican candidates’ victories are in doubt.
“You mean they are just now finding votes in Florida and Georgia – but the Election was on Tuesday?” Trump said. “Let’s blame the Russians and demand an immediate apology from President Putin!”
—With files from the Associated Press