The Biden Official Overseeing Georgia Poll Watchers Defended Black Panthers in Voter Intimidation Case

Kristen Clarke (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
December 6, 2022

The Biden administration is pulling out all the stops ahead of Georgia's Senate runoff election, dispatching poll watchers from a Justice Department division helmed by an activist attorney who once lobbied for a group that threatened poll watchers.

As assistant attorney general for civil rights, Kristen Clarke oversees the team whose members are monitoring polls in four Georgia counties during Tuesday's race between Democratic senator Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker.

But as a civil rights lawyer in 2009, Clarke lobbied the Obama Justice Department to toss out a case against members of the New Black Panther Party charged with voter intimidation. Two members of the militant group threatened two black poll watchers, calling them "race traitors" and threatening that there would be "hell to pay" when they left the polling place. One of the black nationalists was spotted with a billy club.

While the Justice Department regularly monitors polling sites across the country, Clarke's activism could raise questions about whether the civil rights division will fairly observe Tuesday's election. The New Black Panther Party announced that it will deploy armed guards to polling sites in Georgia to prevent "white supremacist violence."

After the Obama administration tossed out charges against the New Black Panther Party members, a Justice Department lawyer told a federal oversight board that he believed Clarke "was lobbying for the dismissal of the New Black Panther Party case before it was dismissed." Clarke dodged questions about her involvement at her confirmation hearing last year, saying, "I think there were many people who deemed that a weak case."

Clarke has also repeatedly cast doubt on election outcomes in Georgia. After Democratic activist Stacey Abrams lost the 2018 gubernatorial race, Clarke asserted that "there is no doubt that voter suppression taints electoral outcomes and chills turnout." Clarke later shared an article about Abrams and claimed that the Supreme Court had "cut the heart out of the Voting Rights Act." The organization Clarke led at the time sued Georgia election officials after the election over requirements for signatures on absentee ballots to match.

Abrams infamously refused to concede her loss to Republican governor Brian Kemp in that election. She lost a rematch against him last month by nearly 300,000 votes.

Poll watchers from Clarke's team will observe polling sites in Cobb, Fulton, Gwinnett, and Macon-Bibb counties. They will watch for violations of the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act, as well as field complaints from the public related to possible violations of federal voting rights laws.

The Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment.