Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue grabbed a Georgia Tech student's phone on Saturday as the student filmed him while trying to ask a question about the state's voter identification policies.
Perdue was on Georgia Tech's campus campaigning for Brian Kemp, Georgia's secretary of state and Republican nominee for governor. Kemp is running in a hotly contested race with Democratic nominee and former statehouse minority leader Stacey Abrams.
Kemp, who is in charge of elections and voter registration in Georgia, faced backlash after the Associated Press reported Tuesday that his office put more than 53,000 voter applications on hold, nearly 70% of which are African American, because they failed to clear the state's "exact match" standard.
Under the policy, even the most minor discrepancy between a voter's registration and their driver's license, social security or state ID cards -- such as a typo or missing letter -- can be flagged.
Kemp has since said those affected will be able to vote on Election Day.
In the video, posted to Twitter on Saturday by the college's chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, a student is heard attempting to ask the senator a question: "How can you endorse a candidate —"
Perdue cuts him off, saying, "No, I'm not doing that," and grabs the student's phone.
The video cuts briefly for a few seconds when Perdue accidentally stopped and restarted the recording, during which time Perdue hid the phone behind his back while the student demanded their phone be returned, according to a statement from the student democratic socialists group.
"You stole my property," the student tells Perdue. "You stole my property."
"All right, you wanted a picture?" the senator says.
"Give me my phone back," the student replies.
"You wanted a picture? I'm going to give it to you," the senator says again.
"Give me my phone back, senator," the student insists.
The Georgia Tech student, a member of the students' democratic socialists group, told CNN he was trying to ask, "How can you endorse a candidate who's trying to reject people's voter registrations on the basis of their race?"
The student requested to remain anonymous due to security concerns and fear of retaliation.
A spokesperson for Perdue told CNN in a statement, "the Senator clearly thought he was being asked to take a picture, and he went to take a selfie."
"Senator Perdue spent several hours meeting with hundreds of people at the Georgia Tech game this weekend," the spokesperson's statement said.
"The Senator spoke with many students and answered questions on a variety of topics," it said. "In this instance, 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."
The student told CNN he and his friends asked Perdue if they could take a picture with him when they first approached the senator in an attempt to ask their question and get his answer on camera.
"I was trying to ask him about that because I think it's something that most Georgians care about," the student told CNN.
When asked for a comment, a spokesperson for Georgia Tech said only that "no complaint has been filed with the Georgia Tech Police Department."
The Young Democratic Socialists of America at Georgia Tech condemned the senator's behavior in a statement shared with CNN.
"Perdue walked into Georgia Tech's backyard, and students aren't allowed to ask him a simple question?" the statement reads, adding the senator could have said "no comment" or walked away.
"But instead, he forcibly, suddenly, and violently took their phone without justification or provocation," the statement said.
"While the GOP is running ads accusing the political left of being an unhinged violent mob, today we saw the GOP's utter contempt for the public, and their willingness to commit criminal acts of violence for political gain without provocation," the statement reads.
The statement added, "if the Georgia Tech student had snatched a sitting US Senator's phone, the student would likely have been arrested on the spot."
"This behavior is shocking, appalling, and totally unbecoming of the supposedly hallowed office of US Senator," the statement reads.
Following the AP report, Abrams called for Kemp to step down as secretary of state.
When asked about the issue Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," Abrams said, "The miasma of fear that is created through voter suppression is as much about terrifying people about trying to vote as it is about actually blocking their ability to do so."
Kemp, in a tweet on Wednesday, said "The 53,000 Georgians on our 'pending' list can vote in the Nov. 6th election."
Kemp's office used the system previously, but paused following a lawsuit, at which point the state legislature passed a law restoring the "exact match" system. Amid the current controversy, a coalition of civil rights groups filed a lawsuit challenging the system again.
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