WASHINGTON — The race for governor of Georgia has been bitter, controversial and hard-fought, and Election Day was no less contentious.
Before Tuesday night was over, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp appeared to defeat Democratic state Sen. Stacey Abrams by at least two points.
Indeed, with votes from 100 percent of the precincts counted as of 3:12 a.m. EST, GOP Kemp had 50.8 percent of the vote, while Democratic state Rep. Abrams had 48.3 percent, according to the Associated Press. Libertarian Ted Metz got 0.09 percent.
Nevertheless, Abrams refused to concede early Wednesday morning.
“I’m not going to name names, but some have worked hard to take our votes away,” she said in a speech to supporters in Atlanta shortly after 1:30 a.m. By that time, 96 percent of the voting precincts had reported, giving Kemp a three-point lead.
But she said tens of thousands of absentee ballots were among the votes not yet counted.
Under state law, unless a candidate gets at least 50.1 percent of the vote, a run-off must be held. If that scenario develops, the run-off election would be held on Dec. 4.
But Kemp insisted to reporters that no run-off will be needed because he has enough votes to win.
Much is at stake for Abrams; a win would instantly grant her a spot in history books as the nation’s first black female governor.
The race was controversial from its inception because one of Kemp’s duties is to oversee Georgia’s elections. Although he was not required to step down from his job, many had called on him to do so to avoid any appearances of a conflict of interest.
Allegations of voter suppression by Kemp have haunted the race for weeks. On Oct. 9, the Associated Press reported that more than 53,000 voter applications had been put on hold due to the state’s controversial “exact match” verification policy. The rule require that the information on a voter registration application precisely match that on individual’s Social Security and the state’s Department of Driver Services records.
A reported 70 percent of the affected would-be voters are black, according to several civil rights groups including the Georgia NAACP that filed a lawsuit against Kemp two days later. The suit alleges that the policy disenfranchises minority voters.
On Oct. 24, a federal judge ordered Georgia’s election officials to stop eliminating absentee ballots with voter’s signatures that appear different from the ones the department has on file. Two lawsuits had charged that hundreds of absentee ballots had been improperly eliminated.
Then two days before the election, Kemp’s office said it was investigating the state Democratic Party for allegedly trying to hack voter registration files. The party denied any wrongdoing and Kemp offered no evidence.
On Election Day, whispers (and shouts) of voter suppression flew again after several voting machines with no power cords — rendering them useless — were delivered to some polls in predominantly black neighborhoods.
The NAACP filed a lawsuit on Tuesday afternoon to keep polls open late, and a court sided with the organization.
Polls had been scheduled to close at 7 p.m. EST but because of the NAACP’s litigation, three polls in Fulton County stayed open late: one until 9 p.m. and two until 10 p.m., including the one for historically black colleges Morehouse and Spelman, Abrams’ alma mater.
On Twitter, Abrams urged her supporters to “STAY IN LINE and vote.”
Several celebrities including hip-hop producer Diddy, rapper Common and actress Rosario Dawson posted Twitter messages urging voters to do the same.
Diddy put a video on Abrams’ Twitter feed that told voters to “stand on those lines and vote. Fight back. This is not a game.”