ATLANTA (AP) — Amid a scramble for political supremacy in rapidly changing Georgia, Democrats and Republicans are pointing fingers over the handling of as many 50,000 voter registration forms as the Nov. 4 election looms.
The dispute pits one of the state's highest ranking Democrats and the minister of the church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was once the pastor against the Republican secretary of state, with the two sides headed to court this week.
Leaders of the New Georgia Project say the group gathered about 86,000 voter registration forms, focusing on minority, younger and otherwise disengaged citizens. Those would-be voters are likely to lean Democratic, though the organization is technically nonpartisan.
But now the group's leaders say they cannot find about 40,000 of those names on official voter lists maintained by Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican, with 10,000 more names listed as "pending."
With help from national civil rights lawyers, the organization has sued Kemp and several Georgia counties in state court.
"We want them to process forms as the law requires, and then document a reason for any applicant being denied registration, with that person being informed in writing as to why they aren't eligible," said state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, an Atlanta Democrat who leads the group.
A hearing is scheduled for Friday morning in Atlanta.
The lawsuit comes after Kemp publicly launched an investigation of Abrams' group, alleging it submitted forged applications. State officials later said they confirmed 25 forgeries, about 3/100ths of 1 percent of those Abrams and her allies say they collected.
Abrams' efforts are at the heart of Democrats' strategy to capitalize on demographic shifts — the state has become more urban, younger and less white — and make GOP-run Georgia a Southern presidential battleground alongside North Carolina and Virginia.
The test runs ahead of 2016 are pending Senate matchups between Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican David Perdue, along with the governor's race between Republican incumbent Nathan Deal and Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter, former President Jimmy Carter's grandson.
Kemp calls the lawsuit "frivolous." He maintains that all applications have been processed and that all eligible voters will have access to ballots for the Nov. 4 election.
"It is time for the New Georgia Project and others to stop throwing out random numbers and baseless accusations and let the counties continue to do their jobs," Kemp said last week.
But Kemp has not said how many of the 86,000 would-be voters will actually be on the Nov. 4 voter list. Kemp said after reviewing the list of supposedly missing names, officials found 513 names that match deceased voters; 1,637 that match ineligible felons; and 4,300 whose forms were incomplete or had invalid addresses.
The Democratic lawmaker said she does not question Kemp's motives and wants only to ensure that no one who is eligible is denied a ballot.
But one of Abrams' fellow organizers, the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church, has said Kemp's effort smacks of voter suppression. Kemp denied that charge, noting he has launched online voter registration that drew 70,000 new applicants for this election cycle.
"It has truly never been easier to register to vote in Georgia," Kemp said.