The state of Georgia may have a larger influence in the 2016 presidential election than in prior elections if Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp has his way.
Kemp, addressing a group of 26 people at the Madison Forum’s Monday luncheon at Rib Ranch Restaurant, discussed the state’s progress in the campaign for an “SEC Primary,” a regional primary specifically for southern states with southeastern conference schools to increase the South’s influence in presidential elections.
“Things are coming together fairly well,” Kemp said. “Regardless of what happens, we have gotten some great press about our SEC primary idea. The sole reason I came up with this idea is to try to have more of us go first. That will give us a little more say (in the election). The problem in the past is that the race would already be over when it got to us, or we’re on the same day as New York and California and nobody pays attention to us.”
Kemp said seven southern states have agreed to consider holding the primary election on March 1, 2016 — Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Virginia and Texas. Of those, three have committed to the date: Georgia, Tennessee and Texas.
The SEC primary will force presidential candidates to concentrate their campaign efforts in the South, Kemp said.
“There is a great opportunity. I don’t think the candidates can ignore us,” he said. “They’re going to know that the South marks the first … at least on the Republican side. Regardless, we’ve already seen more candidates, more action in Georgia as of now than we did in any cycle that I can remember. I think that bodes well for us. We’re going to continue to see candidates have to pay attention to the South.”
Kemp also touted efficiencies in his department by such moves as merging the state’s cosmetology and barber licensing boards.
“That is one of our biggest licensing professions,” he said. “We have a lot of license renewals and a lot of new licenses. One of the things we’ve been doing since we started getting budget cuts and to make the agency more efficient. I’m really trying to bring efficiency, common sense — a small business owner’s background to government. One of those things I ask is, ‘How can we do more things efficient?’”
Kemp dismissed the allegations brought against him by the New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan organization that aims to increase voter participation headed by House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams. In 2014, the New Georgia Project sued the Secretary of State’s office, claiming the agency refused to process about 40,000 voter registrations. The lawsuit was dismissed by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Christopher Brasher in October.
“There is some shining light that we were doing everything we could to get people who legally met the qualifications to register to vote,” he said. “I was very confident that the counties were processing all of the information that they received.”
Attendees asked about the security of the state’s electronic voting system and what they claimed was an increase in illegal voting registration. Kemp said the issues were not problems that posed any immediate danger.
“Our voting system is secure,” he said. “I do believe it’s a good system. … I am very confident about the security of our (registration and voting) systems.”