GOP gov candidate Kemp resigns as Georgia secretary of state

ATLANTA (AP) — Republican Brian Kemp resigned Thursday as Georgia’s secretary of state, a day after his campaign said he’s captured enough votes to become governor, even though his election rival is conceding nothing in one of the nation’s marquee midterm races.

As the state’s top election official, Kemp oversaw the race, and his resignation Thursday morning came as a hearing began for a lawsuit in which five voters asked that he be barred from exercising his duties in any future management of his own election tally. Democratic rival Stacey Abrams’ campaign had repeatedly accused Kemp of improperly using his post as secretary of state.

Kemp’s resignation takes effect just before noon Thursday.

Abrams has pointed to ballots that have yet to be counted and says there’s still the possibility of a December runoff. Her campaign has said she must pick up about 15,000 votes to do so.

Kemp said Abrams is using “old math.” Without providing specifics, he said in a WSB Radio interview that the number “is actually more like 30,000 votes.”

The Associated Press has not called the election.

At a news conference with outgoing Republican Gov. Nathan Deal late Thursday morning, Kemp declared that there are only about 20,000 provisional ballots that have not yet been counted in the race. He did not offer any details, but in response to a question said he would ask about releasing county-by-county results.

Of Abrams, he said, “Even if she got 100 percent of those votes, we still win.”

Late Wednesday afternoon — after a day of the campaigns, media and partisan observers scrambling for information about outstanding votes across Georgia’s 159 counties — Kemp aide Ryan Mahoney told reporters on a conference call, “We are declaring victory.” Campaign official Austin Chambers, added: “The message here is pretty simple: This election is over, and the results are clear.”

Abrams’ campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo retorted a few hours later that the Kemp campaign offered “no proof” other than nonspecific provisional ballot counts released by Kemp’s official state office.

“He’s offered … no indication of why we should take him at his word,” Groh-Wargo said. “The sitting secretary of state has declared himself” the winner.

The standoff leaves open the possibility of litigation as Abrams’ campaign has pushed for the continued counting of absentee, mail-in and provisional ballots, and renewed its concerns that Kemp was the chief elections officer supervising his own election, a race already marked by disputes over the voting process.

If a runoff is necessary, the second round would take place Dec. 4, extending Abrams’ bid to become the first black woman elected governor in American history while Kemp looks to maintain the GOP’s domination in a state where Democrats haven’t won a governor’s race since 1998.

Partisan observers nationally have watched intently for clues about just how much of a battleground Georgia can be in the 2020 presidential campaign.

With reported votes exceeding 3.9 million — almost 95 percent of Georgia’s 2016 presidential turnout — Kemp has just more than 50 percent.

Before the Kemp campaign declared victory Wednesday, Groh-Wargo estimated that about 15,000 votes separate Kemp from a runoff. She says at least that many outstanding absentee and mail-in ballots remained to be counted.

Kemp’s spokeswoman in the secretary of state’s office, Candice Broce, said that by Wednesday afternoon the number of uncounted absentee and mail-in ballots was less than 2,000 — with her boss still above the 50 percent threshold.

Broce said about 22,000 provisional ballots have yet to be processed, according to a canvass of county officials across the state. Mahoney asserted that those numbers make it impossible for Abrams to pick up enough votes to deny Kemp an outright victory.

In 2016, with a slightly larger electorate, there were 16,739 provisional ballots. Of those, 7,592 were counted. State and campaign officials said they expected a much higher proportion to be counted this year.

Kemp’s office has not released a county-by-county breakdown of provisional ballots, but Abrams’ campaign said they believe they are concentrated in metro Atlanta counties where Abrams won a large share of the vote. Broce said Kemp’s office is working on releasing more detailed information.

The lawsuit at issue Thursday morning in an Atlanta federal court came from voters who sued Kemp on Election Day alleging that Kemp presiding over an election in which he is a candidate “violates a basic notion of fairness.” The plaintiffs asked the court to block Kemp from having anything more to do with managing his election. The hearing ended shortly after it began with the announcement of Kemp’s resignation.

It’s not immediately clear what Kemp’s practical role was in the election tally. Local officials are responsible for counting the votes, including provisional ballots. County officials have until next Tuesday to certify their results and send them to Kemp’s office. Statewide certification must come by Nov. 20.

Georgia’s Kemp says he’s governor-elect, Abrams fights on

ATLANTA (AP) — Republican Brian Kemp resigned Thursday as Georgia’s secretary of state, removing himself from the ongoing count of the governor’s election he says he’s already won.

Kemp made his announcement in the governor’s office of the Georgia Capitol, standing beside the man he plans to replace in January. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal called Kemp “the governor-elect” and both said they would begin transition work together.

“We won a clear and convincing victory,” Kemp said of returns showing him with 50.3 percent of almost 4 million votes, about a 63,000-vote lead over Democrat Stacey Abrams. That’s a narrow sum considering the near-presidential election year turnout, though sufficient for the majority required for outright victory.

Abrams maintained there are enough uncounted ballots to force a December runoff in one of the marquee matchups of the 2018 midterm elections.

The Associated Press has not called the governor’s race.

With legal wrangles opening on what votes to count and how, the dispute is prolonging a bitter contest awash in historical significance and national political impact. Abrams hopes to become the first black woman elected governor of any American state. Kemp seeks to maintain Republican dominance in a growing, diversifying Deep South state positioned to become a presidential battleground.

The key question is how many uncounted ballots actually remain. Kemp says it’s less than 21,000 — almost certainly not enough to force a runoff. The elections chief from the secretary of state’s office said in a federal court hearing Thursday afternoon that the number is 21,190.

“Even if she got 100 percent of those votes, we still win,” Kemp told reporters.

Abrams’ campaign argues the total could be higher, and the secretary of state’s office has been scant in sharing details as officials in Georgia’s 159 counties keep counting.

“This is about the integrity of the election in the state of Georgia,” said Abrams’ campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo. “Brian Kemp can’t just walk away from that … Our governor (Deal) can’t just walk away from that.”

John Chandler, one of several attorneys for Abrams, promised to “litigate until we have determined that every person’s vote has been counted.”

A runoff, if needed, would be Dec. 4.

County authorities must certify final returns by Tuesday. The state must certify a statewide result by Nov. 20. Deal appointed one of his Cabinet members to oversee the process in Kemp’s place.

Abrams, other Democrats — including former President Jimmy Carter — and voting rights activists had for months called for Kemp to step down amid charges he was abusing his office to make it harder for some Georgians, particularly minorities, to vote.

Kemp said his resignation “will give confidence to the certification process.” He maintained he wasn’t bowing to pressure but preparing to be governor.

“That was all political,” Kemp said of previous criticisms, adding Tuesday’s turnout — about 1.4 million more than in Deal’s last election — proves it.

One of the lawsuits heard Thursday in federal court requested Kemp be barred from overseeing the rest of the certification procedure — a requested pre-empted by Kemp’s resignation.

Abrams’ campaign said it believes she needs to pick up about 25,000 votes to force a runoff.

Offering examples of potential ballots Democrats say Kemp isn’t contemplating, Groh-Wargo said four counties reported considerably fewer early votes in the governor’s race than the number of early ballots cast. Groh-Wargo said it seemed implausible that voters cared enough to cast ballots early but not in the hotly contested governor’s race.

She added officials in suburban Atlanta’s Cobb County added several hundred votes to that count Thursday morning from absentee ballots. That came after the secretary of state’s office said all absentee and early ballots had been counted.

Abrams’ lawyers also said they planned to sue officials in Dougherty County because absentee ballots were delayed after Hurricane Michael devastated parts of south Georgia. Separately, the ACLU raised concerns over 1,200 absentee ballots in Gwinnett County, northeast of Atlanta, which it said were rejected because of missing birthdate information.

“Brian Kemp owes voters an explanation,” Groh-Wargo said, demanding to see lists and names. “We do not believe any of these numbers are credible.”

When Kemp’s campaign declared victory Wednesday, aides cited a statewide estimate of uncounted ballots from the secretary of state’s office. But that office had not publicly offered a county-by-county breakdown to Abrams’ campaign or the media at that point.

The provisional vote total is considerably higher than in 2016, when a slightly larger electorate yielded 16,739 provisional ballots. Of those, 7,592 were counted.

State and campaign officials have said they expected a much higher proportion to be counted this year. In federal court Thursday, a secretary of state’s representative said the provisional count included at least some votes cast late at a handful of metro Atlanta precincts that courts ordered to stay open past Tuesday’s 7 p.m. poll closing time.

Kemp said he and Abrams have not communicated since the election. And while Kemp said he respected Abrams’ efforts, he declared Thursday, “The votes simply are not there for her.”