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Brian Kemp resigns as Georgia secretary of state as governor's race remains too close to call

Kemp, the Republican candidate for governor, holds a narrowing lead over his Democratic opponent after Tuesday's vote.
Image: Brian Kemp
Brian Kemp, Georgia's Republican nominee for governor, on election night in Athens.Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

Republican Brian Kemp resigned as Georgia's secretary of state on Thursday, a day after declaring victory in his tight race for governor against Democrat Stacey Abrams, who has not conceded the race.

Kemp said he was resigning to focus on the transition process.

"In addition to having the right team, you need energy and focus," Kemp said at a news conference in Atlanta alongside Gov. Nathan Deal, also a Republican. "That is why effective 11:59 a.m. today, I'm stepping down as secretary of state."

Kemp holds a narrowing lead over Abrams after Tuesday's vote, but the race remains too close to call, according to NBC News. Kemp leads Abrams, 50.3 percent to 48.7 percent.

Kemp said Thursday that even if Abrams received "100 percent" of the remaining provisional ballots, he would still come out on top.

"The votes are not there for her," Kemp said. "I certainly respect the hard fought race that she ran. But that's a decision she's gonna have to make. But we've run the race, it's very clear now and we're moving forward with the transition."

As more ballots are being counted, however, Abrams' deficit nears both the threshold required for a mandatory recount and the level needed to trigger a runoff election. Georgia requires that a candidate get more than 50 percent of the vote to be declared the winner and avoid a runoff.

Abrams' campaign has maintained that there are enough outstanding ballots to force a runoff, which would be held Dec. 4. If Abrams is able to gain slightly more than 23,700 votes on Kemp, the race is pushed into a mandatory recount. If she can gain about 25,600, it is forced into a runoff.

In a Thursday news conference of its own, her campaign accused the secretary of state's office of providing inaccurate and incomplete information about how many votes are yet to be counted.

Campaign lawyers announced during the press gathering that they would file a lawsuit Thursday over absentee ballots in Dougherty County.

Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams' campaign manager, said Kemp owes the people of Georgia "an explanation" for why accurate and complete information was not being provided.

"We need to see lists, we need to see names, we need to see counts of every vote," she said, later adding that the campaign would not stop pressing forward "until we are confident that every vote has been counted."

In a statement released later Thursday, the campaign also said it has requested that every county preserve all documents pertaining to the election as it investigates claims from students who believe their absentee ballots were not accepted and works to obtain more information about provisional ballots.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez said he applauded Abrams "for continuing to ensure that every vote must be counted."

In his role as secretary of state, Kemp oversaw Georgia's elections, something that opponents have pointed to as an inherent conflict of interest. Last month, former President Jimmy Carter, a Georgian, called on Kemp to resign.

Now that he has, Kemp will not oversee a recount, if there is one. Following Kemp's announcement he would resign, Deal appointed Robyn Crittenden as the interim secretary of state. Crittenden served for three years as commissioner of the Georgia Department Human Services.

The run-up to Election Day in the battle between Abrams and Kemp was rife with controversy surrounding Kemp's oversight of his own election. Abrams and civil rights groups have accused Kemp of suppressing the vote, and federal courts have ruled against some of Kemp's pre-election measures.

Kemp has said he is just trying to follow the law.

Abrams, meanwhile, is seeking to become the first black woman elected governor in the U.S. Speaking Wednesday, she alluded to the allegations of voter suppression.

"This election has tested our faith," she said Wednesday. "I'm not going to name names, but some have worked hard to take our voices away."

The Abrams-Kemp race is not the only prominent midterm election battle still undecided. In Florida, vote margins in close contests for governor and Senate tightened.

In Arizona, votes are still being counted in the Senate race between Republican Rep. Martha McSally and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, where McSally holds a slim lead.

And in Mississippi, Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy prepare for a runoff election later this month after neither candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote.

CORRECTION (Nov. 8, 11:20 a.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated the effective time of Brian Kemp's resignation as secretary of state. It is 11:59 a.m Thursday, not 11:59 p.m. Thursday.