ATLANTA — Civil rights organizations have filed a federal lawsuit against Georgia Secretary of State and Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp, accusing his office of preventing minority voters from registering ahead of next month's closely watched race.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court in Atlanta, targets Georgia's "exact match" verification process, which requires that information on voter applications precisely match information already on file with the Georgia Department of Driver Services or the Social Security Administration.
The lawsuit comes days after an analysis by The Associated Press found over 53,000 voter registration applications sitting in pending status. Georgia's population is approximately 32 percent black, according to the U.S. Census, but the list of voter registrations on hold with Kemp's office is nearly 70 percent black.
Kemp, who is in charge of elections and voter registration in Georgia, is facing Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is vying to become the nation's black female governor. Recent public polling indicates the race is a dead heat.
Abrams' campaign has called on Kemp to step down as Secretary of State, saying his run for governor creates a conflict of interest with his role overseeing elections.
Kemp's office has blamed the racial disparity on the New Georgia Project, a voter registration group founded by Abrams in 2013. It says the organization was sloppy in registering voters, and says they submitted inadequate forms for a batch of applicants that was predominantly black.
An entry error or a dropped hyphen in a last name can cause an application to be placed on hold.
The lawsuit said the "exact-match" policy "disproportionately and negatively impact the ability of voting-eligible African-American, Latino and Asian-American applicants to register to vote."
Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for Kemp's office, called the lawsuit "bogus" and "a complete waste of our time and taxpayer dollars."
Kemp's office said that voters whose applications are held in pending status can go to the polls with a photo ID that matches information on their registration application — rectifying the match issue in person — and cast a regular ballot.
Voters whose applications are frozen in "pending" status have 26 months to fix any issues before their application is canceled. They can still cast a provisional ballot.
The lawsuit was brought by several groups including the Georgia state chapter of the NAACP, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta and the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.