ATLANTA — Stacey Abrams, the Democrat vying for the governorship of Georgia, is ratcheting up her assertion that Republican rival Brian Kemp is effectively suppressing minority and women voters in his role as secretary of state.
The Kemp campaign is returning fire with charges of a "manufactured ... crisis" and a "publicity stunt" as early voting ramps up before one of the premier matchups nationally in the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
Abrams told CNN on Sunday that Kemp is "eroding the public trust" because his office has held up 53,000 new voter registration applications, questioning their legality under Georgia law. She's called for Kemp to resign as chief elections officer.
"This is simply a redux of a failed system that is both designed to scare people out of voting and ... for those who are willing to push through, make it harder for them to vote," Abrams told CNN's Jake Tapper.
Kemp counters that he's following Georgia voting laws that require due diligence in registering voters and that will still allow any the disputed voters to cast ballots.
"They are faking outrage to drive voters to the polls in Georgia," Kemp spokesman Ryan Mahoney said Sunday. "The 53,000 'pending' voters can cast a ballot just like any other Georgia voter," he added, noting the state's voter identification requirement that applies even for established voters who never miss an election.
Tapper said on the air that Kemp declined an invitation to appear on his show.
The back-and-forth continues a yearslong feud between Abrams, a former state legislative leader, and Kemp, the longtime secretary of state, over ballot access and election security.
Now, the latest chapter is defining the closing weeks of one of the most closely watched gubernatorial races in the country, with Abrams attempting to become the first black female governor in U.S. history and establish Georgia as a genuine two-party battleground ahead of the 2020 presidential campaign.
The pending registrations could be key in the expected close race. Abrams states freely that her path to victory requires votes from sporadic voters, particularly younger and nonwhite voters. An Associated Press found that 70 percent of the 53,000 pending applications are from black Georgians.
At issue is Georgia's so-called "exact match" voter registration law, which Kemp helped lobby Georgia's GOP-run legislature to adopt.
The law requires information on a voter's registration application to exactly match information on file with Georgia's driver's license agency of the Social Security Administration. Abrams' argues, for instance, that women who have changed or hyphenated their names after being married could be tripped up.
Mahoney, the Kemp campaign spokesman, disputed that characterization. He said applications are flagged when they are incomplete or when there's not an obvious match in existing government records, but that voters can clear up problems ahead of the election or on Election Day, with acceptable forms of government identification.
Any voter with a legitimate state-issued ID who filled out the registration form by the deadline, he said, would have no problems, and he rejected any claims that a significant number of would-be voters might have to cast provisional ballots that ultimately aren't counted.
Abrams scoffed Sunday at that argument, predicting that it's too much of a "subjective standard" for local elections officials to have to decide on Election Day whether a voter's identification is good enough. "It would be much easier if he actually did his job and processed people in a proper fashion," she said, adding that "53,000 have been told, 'You may be able to vote, you may not, it's up to you to prove it.'"
The courts could end up deciding the fight. The secretary of state was sued late last week over the matter. That suit is pending in federal district court.
Mahoney noted that Abrams' New Georgia Project filed a similar suit ahead of the 2014 midterm election that ultimately was thrown out. In a related move, Kemp's office launched an investigation of the organization but closed it without disclosing any findings of voter fraud.
Absentee mail voting in Georgia already is underway. Early in-person voting begins Monday.