If Super Bowl LIII was the 2018 Georgia Gubernatorial Race

Imagine this. You turn on your TV, like many of us did this past weekend to watch Super Bowl LIII, but as the game kicks-off, you notice something strange. Tom Brady runs onto the field, but instead of a New England Patriots jersey, he is wearing a referee shirt. This means that in addition to leading his teams he is also responsible for overseeing the game and deciding who wins. That feeling is what many Georgians felt this past election season, as one of the two major party candidates for Georgia’s governorship, also served as the Secretary of State, the person responsible for officiating the election.

Stacey Abrams(left)and Brian Kemp(right). Credit: AP Photos/John Amis.

The 2018 Georgia Governor’s race gained national attention. The election was historic in nature. Stacey Abrams became the first black woman to become a major party candidate for governor. Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp sparked controversy for refusing to recuse himself from his appointed position. Kemp was appointed in 2010. He held the responsibility of supervising elections, supervising voter registrations, and maintaining voter logs in the state. During the race, he maintained that he was able to fully and fairly carry out his responsibility of being Secretary of State while also being a gubernatorial nominee. As a result, Kemp received calls to step down from his duties as SOS from his opponents, voting rights groups, and most notably Former President Jimmy Carter. President Carter penned a letter to Kemp, in which he stated,” in order to foster voter confidence in the upcoming election, which will be especially important if the race ends up very close, I urge you to step aside and hand over to a neutral authority the responsibility of overseeing the governor’s election.” The letter further galvanized those who believed Kemp’s stepping down would foster more faith in our electoral system. Carter continued, “This would not address every concern, but it would be a sign that you recognize the importance of this key democratic principle and want to ensure the confidence of our citizens in the outcome.”

The Georgia gubernatorial election raised an ethical question rather than a legal one. There is no law on the books that bars a secretary of state from running for the governorship. The problem arises because there should be. There should be a law barring any secretary of state, no matter what party, to actively run in a race they are responsible for administrating. This is because there is no way for any secretary of state to regulate an election that they have a personal stake in without bias.

The idea of recusing yourself from elected duties is a tradition in the American political system. In fact, Brian Kemp came into office, ironically, when his predecessor Karen Handel stepped down from her position in order to mount her own campaign for governor. In Florida, the outgoing governor and incoming Senator Republican Rick Scott, recused himself from certifying the election in both 2014 and in this past election, to ensure the absence of bias. Other branches of government also follow this tradition. For example, in the judicial branch, judges have a duty to recuse themselves from cases where they have a conflict of interest, or they risk punishment and disbarment. These rules are made to ensure that rulings are made fairly for all parties involved.

Every few years the National Football League adds new rules and regulations. These establish fairness and safety for everyone who steps on the field. We need to apply those same principles to our electoral system. Everyone deserves a fair election. We need to push for policy that ensures our democracy is healthy and ethical. There is no true democracy where a candidate can count his own votes, just like there is no fair game when the quarterback can throw flags on the play.

About the Author

Evan Malbrough is currently a student and Vote Everywhere Ambassador at Georgia State University, where he majors in Public Policy with a focus on Governance and a minor in Cello Performance. In the summer of 2017, Evan became a research fellow for the Department of Defense under the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness. Evan served as the 2017-2018 president of the Young Democrats of Georgia State University. He also works as a professional Cellist in the Atlanta area.