The story starts simply enough: African-Americans and Hispanics across Georgia were registered to vote at levels lower than their white state-mates, so the New Georgia Project was started by the non-profit Third Sector Development to register new voters, concentrating on minority communities.
And that is exactly what the New Georgia Project did.
Over the last few months, the group submitted some 80,000 voter registration forms to the Georgia secretary of state's office — but as of last week, about half those new registrants, more than 40,000 Georgians, were still not listed on preliminary voter rolls. And there is no public record of those 40,000-plus applications, according to State Representative Stacey Adams, a Democrat.
Oh, yeah, did we mention: Georgia's Secretary of State Brian Kemp is a Republican.
The secretary's office says they are not doing anything different than usual in processing the voter applications. These things take time, they say. (Apparently months and months of time — as that is how long some of those forms have been sitting with the state without being processed.)
That's Kemp's story, and he's sticking to it … except this is also Kemp's story:
In closing I just wanted to tell you real quick, after we get through this runoff, you know the Democrats are working hard, and all these stories about them, you know, registering all these minority voters that are out there and others that are sitting on the sidelines, if they can do that, they can win these elections in November. But we’ve got to do the exact same thing. I would encourage all of you, if you have an Android or an Apple device, to download that app, and maybe your goal is to register one new Republican voter.
Kemp said that in July, and in September, Kemp announced he was launching a fraud investigation into the registration drive, though the secretary's office has not produced a reason as to why the state suspects fraud.
September was also the month when the Republican whip of the state Senate complained that DeKalb County, Ga., was making it too easy for minorities to vote by allowing early voting in an area mall close to many predominantly African-American churches. The whip, state Sen. Fran Millar, announced at the time that he was "investigating if there is any way to stop this action."
Monday marked the beginning of early voting in a number of Georgia counties, making the case of the 40,000 missing voters all the more urgent.
To that end, Third Sector Development announced yesterday that, after weeks of fruitless negotiations with the state, they were going to court to find out the status of the missing registrations — or, more to the point, the eligibility of more than 40,000 potential voters.
And here's why this matters:
In the battle for U.S. Senate between Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn, the three latest polls show the race to be a statistical dead heat. The same can be said for the last two polls in the governor's contest between GOP incumbent Nathan Deal and Democratic nominee Jason Carter.
A tight House of Representatives race — like the one between incumbent Rep. John Barrow, D, and challenger Rick Allen, R, in GA-12 — could come down to less than 1,000 votes.
And Georgia rules require the winner to net a majority of votes — 50 percent plus one. If no candidate garners a majority, there will be a runoff on January 6. This seems especially important in the Senate race, where there is a third candidate, Libertarian Amanda Swafford, who is expected to take three to five percent of the vote.
There are now about 6 million registered voters in Georgia. In 2010, the last midterm election year, a little more than 2,620,000 voters cast ballots for at least one race. Most expect the 2014 turnout to be lower. Back-of-the-envelope math would tell you that 40,000 votes would represent something like 1.5 percent of the November tallies. Could that be enough to sway results? In several key races, current polling indicates it likely would.