Georgia Democrats reported a serious election security problem — but instead of working to fix it, Georgia Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp is baselessly accusing the Georgia Democratic Party of cyber crimes.
Brian Kemp, the Republican nominee for governor of Georgia, is also overseeing his own election as Georgia's current secretary of state — and he's been pulling out all the stops to try to suppress minority voters in his very close race with Democrat Stacey Abrams, who would become the first black woman governor in the U.S. if she won.
Luckily for Georgia voters, Kemp's cynical ploys — like holding up the registrations of 53,000 mostly black voters due to the state's onerous "exact match" law, which he lobbied to pass — keep getting smacked down in court.
But on Sunday, just two days before the election, Kemp pulled his most twisted, desperate stunt yet: announcing that his office was opening an investigation into the Democratic Party of Georgia for "possible cyber crimes" and attempting to hack his office's voting systems.
Perhaps Kemp hopes that his "investigation" will have a similar effect as former FBI Director James Comey's disastrous memo about Hillary Clinton's emails — casting a vague cloud of suspicion on Democrats in order to dampen their enthusiasm and turnout.
But he's not fooling the media, and the obvious stunt could backfire on him.
The executive director of the Georgia Democratic Party, Rebecca DeHart, vehemently denied Kemp's allegations in a statement to NBC News.
”To be very clear, Brian Kemp’s scurrilous claims are 100-percent false, and this so-called investigation was unknown to the Democratic Party of Georgia until a campaign operative in Kemp’s official office released a statement this morning,” DeHart said Sunday. “This political stunt from Kemp just days before the election is yet another example of why he cannot be trusted and should not be overseeing an election in which he is also a candidate for governor.”
Abrams herself called Kemp's move a "desperate attempt on the part of my opponent to distract people from the fact that two different federal judges found him derelict in his duties, and have forced him to allow absentee ballots to be counted and those who are being captive by the ‘exact match’ system to be allowed to vote.”
So what's really going on here? Did Kemp just make up these accusations out of thin air?
Sort of, based on what we know so far — but the truth appears to be even worse than that.
On Saturday, the investigative outlet WhoWhatWhy published a story reporting that according to security experts, Georgia's voter registration system has such serious security vulnerabilities that even a low-skilled hacker could exploit them.
The fault for these security vulnerabilities lies with Kemp's office, WhoWhatWhy noted: "As secretary of state, Kemp is the data custodian, meaning he is responsible for the security of voter information. The system administrator works for Kemp and the software developer is a private contractor hired by Kemp’s office."
After Kemp announced his shocking investigation on Sunday, WhoWhatWhy reporters Jordan Wilkie and Timothy Pratt updated their original story with details from the security experts they interviewed that cast doubt on Kemp's claims.
Then they published an explosive follow-up piece reporting that Kemp's alleged "investigation" appears to be "an aggressive gambit to distract from [Georgia's] election security crisis."
Here's what happened in a nutshell, according to WhoWhatWhy: A Georgia resident discovered a security flaw in the voter registration system. That person reported the vulnerability both to the Democrats' voter protection hotline and to a lawyer, who reported the problem to both Kemp's office and the FBI. The voter protection director of the Georgia Democrats referred the problem to computer security experts, who then reported it to both Kemp's office and the FBI.
All of these appear to have been good-faith efforts to address potentially serious security issues. But instead of actually doing something about those issues, Kemp decided to smear Democrats as potential hackers.
The Georgia Democrats didn't "hack" anything in order to discover this flaw; they just passed along a tip. The Georgia resident who discovered the flaw didn't hack anything either, according to Bruce Brown, a lawyer with the Coalition for Good Governance, who contacted Kemp's office about the problem.
“What is particularly outrageous about this, is that I gave this information in confidence to Kemp’s lawyers so that something could be done about it without exposing the vulnerability to the public,” Brown told WhoWhatWhy. “Putting his own political agenda over the security of the election, Kemp is ignoring his responsibility to the people of Georgia.”
As TPM reported last month, Kemp has a history of using his office to attack people for doing the right thing in elections — especially when it comes to communities of color.
After one Georgia county saw unexpectedly high African-American turnout in a school board race, Kemp went on a bona fide witch hunt to try to prove it was the result of voter fraud. He aggressively prosecuted people for trying to help others vote in legitimate ways, like helping disabled relatives fill out a ballot. He failed to get any convictions, but managed to ruin the lives and careers of several innocent people.
Now Kemp is trying to abuse his power once again, in a transparently desperate attempt to defeat his African-American opponent.
But this time, the whole country is watching.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.