Republican Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, is investigating the state’s Democratic Party for “possible cyber crimes” related to an alleged attempted hack on state voting infrastructure, his office announced Sunday, throwing a seismic wrench into Kemp’s neck-and-neck gubernatorial race against Democrat Stacey Abrams with less than 48 hours to go before Election Day.
“Federal partners” — including the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI — also have been notified about the “failed attempt to hack the state’s voter registration system” as of Saturday night, Kemp’s office said.
“While we cannot comment on the specifics of an ongoing investigation, I can confirm that the Democratic Party of Georgia is under investigation for possible cyber crimes,” Kemp Press Secretary Candice Broce said in a press release. “We can also confirm that no personal data was breached and our system remains secure.”
In an updated statement early Sunday afternoon, Kemp’s office added: “We opened an investigation into the Democratic Party of Georgia after receiving information from our legal team about failed efforts to breach the online voter registration system and My Voter Page.”
The Georgia My Voter Page (MVP) allows voters who log-in with their first initial, last name, county, and date of birth to check their registration status and other information, including the status of any mail-in and absentee ballots. The MVP is managed by Kemp’s office.
The new statement continues: “We are working with our private sector vendors and investigators to review data logs. We have contacted our federal partners and formally requested the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate these possible cyber crimes. The Secretary of State’s office will release more information as it becomes available.”
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Reached by Fox News, the FBI’s press office said it had no comment Sunday afternoon.
In response to Kemp’s allegation, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Democratic Party was livid, writing that the “scurrilous claims are 100 percent false” and lambasting the probe as “another example of abuse of power” by the secretary of state.
Kemp and former Georgia state House minority leader Stacey Abrams are locked in a tight contest Fox News currently considers a toss-up. The two are vying to replace term-limited GOP Gov. Nathan Deal, and Abrams could become the state’s first black governor. Kemp has the backing of Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, while Abrams boasts the endorsement of Oprah Winfrey.
Kemp has previously said he wouldn’t recuse himself as Georgia’s secretary of state if his race with Abrams goes to a recount, even though his office would be overseeing that process.
“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,” the Georgia Democratic Party’s executive director, Rebecca DeHart, said in a statement.
“Georgians of all political stripes are very concerned about election security and the security of Georgians’ personal information,” DeHart added in a fresh statement later in the day. “The Democratic Party of Georgia shares that concern, but we did not create, discover, or attempt to take advantage of the deeply vulnerable system used by the Secretary of State’s office.”
She continued: “As Kemp aims to deflect blame for his failures, the questions everyone must be asking is: Why was the system vulnerable in the first place? Why has Brian Kemp still not taken basic steps to secure Georgians’ personal information?”
DeHart charged that, in 2016, “Kemp was one of the only secretaries of state in the country to refuse help from the Department of Homeland Security to improve election security, leaving Georgians vulnerable to foreign cyber attacks.”
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Kemp, at the time, accused the Obama administration of a power grab when he refused that assistance, saying the federal government should stay out of Georgia’s affairs. “The question remains whether the federal government will subvert the Constitution to achieve the goal of federalizing elections under the guise of security,” Kemp said in 2016.
Speaking Sunday to CNN’s “State of the Union,” Abrams echoed DeHart’s criticism, and accused Kemp of repeatedly attempting to suppress votes.
“I’ve heard nothing about it, and my reaction would be that this is 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 accept absentee ballots to be counted and those who are being held captive by the exact match system to be allowed to vote,” Abrams told host Jake Tapper.
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On Friday, a federal judge upheld an injunction against Kemp’s implementation of the state’s “Exact Match” voting law, which required voters whose registrations differed even slightly from their identifications to provide additional verification and led officials to throw out many absentee ballots that didn’t match up. Under Kemp, there were also stringent requirements on people suspected of being in the country illegally.
The injunction requires Kemp to change the state’s procedures to allow more than 3,100 people prove their citizenship more easily, such as by showing a U.S. passport or other documentation — and only to a poll manager.
Abrams called on Kemp to resign after a report last month that approximately 50,000 voter registration applications were on hold in Georgia, including roughly 36,000 sent in by black voters.
U.S. District Judge Eleanor L. Ross said Kemp’s system posed “grave concerns for the Court about the differential treatment inflicted on a group of individuals who are predominantly minorities.”
“He is desperate to turn the conversation away from his failures, from his refusal to honor his commitments and from the fact that he’s part of a nationwide system of voter suppression that will not work in this election because we’re going to outwork him, we’re going to outvote him and we’re going to win,” Abrams added.
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President Trump is set to host a rally Sunday afternoon in Macon, Georgia. His administration has taken an aggressive approach to information warfare, which has seen the Pentagon unveil a new cybersecurity strategy and the Justice Department launch a Cyber-Digital Task Force while pursuing a comprehensive crackdown on leakers.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that people should “vote with confidence” on Tuesday because the nation’s election systems have been hardened against foreign actors.
“I think we’ve made great progress, particularly at the individual polling stations and with the tabulations of votes,” Warner said. “So I think people should vote with confidence.”
In October, a Democratic congressional intern was arrested for allegedly posting the personal information of at least three Republican senators during the confirmation hearings of Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The intern also allegedly threatened to disclose the health information of the senators’ children if a witness revealed his activities.