Georgia Sen. David Perdue (R) reportedly grabbed a cell phone from a university student who was questioning him about potential voter suppression in the state, in a tense encounter captured on video this weekend. The senator’s office later characterized it as a misunderstanding.
The clip, uploaded to Twitter on Saturday by Georgia Tech’s Young Democratic Socialists of America chapter, shows a student walking up to Perdue to ask him about his appearance on campus to endorse Georgia secretary of state Brian Kemp (R) for governor. Kemp is in a heated battle with Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams, and drew scrutiny last week after the Associated Press reported that his office had frozen 53,000 voter registrations ahead of the midterm elections, more than 70 percent of which were linked to African Americans.
Abrams has accused her opponent of using his office to “maliciously ... suppress the vote for political gain and silence the voices of thousands of eligible voters” ― claims Kemp has denied.
In the video, the student walks up to Perdue and asks about his support of Kemp, saying: “Hey, so, uh, how can you endorse a candidate...”
Before the man can finish his question, Perdue appears to grab the phone while saying “I’m not doing that.”
“You stole my property,” the student fires back. “Give me my phone back, senator.”
Perdue later gives the phone back, saying something about the student wanting “a picture,” and walks away as the man reorients his camera and follows the senator for a bit.
The lawmaker’s office later moved to characterize the encounter as a misunderstanding, saying “the senator clearly thought he was being asked to take a picture, and he went to take a selfie as he often does.”
“When he realized they didn’t actually want to take a picture, he gave the phone back,” Perdue’s spokeswoman, Casey Black, told The Washington Post in a statement.
The YDSA chapter lambasted Perdue’s behavior in a statement to the Daily Beast late Sunday, saying the lawmaker chose to “suddenly, and violently [take] their phone without justification or provocation.”
“Perdue walked into Georgia Tech’s backyard, and students aren’t allowed to ask him a simple question?” the group said. “It would be one thing to say ‘no comment’ or inform us he’s not taking questions. Perdue would have been within his legal rights to simply walk away or decline the question.”
Kemp has drawn fire in recent days over the freeze of voter registrations, which was conducted under a controversial “exact match” law that mandates forms perfectly match identification documents. Simple errors such as a typo or a missing hyphen can result in the holds.
The Georgia NAACP said last week it would sue the secretary of state’s office following the AP’s report.