Voter Rolls are being illegally purged in Georgia. Is there a solution?

The cleansing of Georgia’s voter rolls are the latest show of voter suppression in the state. What can be done?

The Current Situation

Modern-day voter suppression in Georgia dates back to when the state passed one of the nation’s first voter ID laws in 2005.1 The law, implemented in 2007, required voters to show photo identification at their polling location. In September 2016, shortly before the Presidential Election, civil rights groups (including the ACLU and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law) successfully sued Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office over a policy that required exact matches on driver’s licenses or Social Security records in order to vote.2 However, in summer 2017, the Secretary of State’s office continued to limit voting rights by illegally purging the registrations of over 380,000 voters in metro-Atlanta counties. These purge notices were sent to registered voters who had moved within their same county, an act that directly violated the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.3 This move, which coincided with the submission of shared voter data to President Trump’s federal commission on alleged “voter fraud,” perpetuates low-income, low-educational voter suppression and must be addressed.

The Alternative

Ending improper voter roll purges at the state level will most likely have to happen through the court system, in the hopes that judges will strike down the unfair policies as civil rights groups continue to bring lawsuits.

Specifically, the ACLU of Georgia recommends six steps, some of which are modified here for the counties to adapt. Outside the immediate goal of rectifying illegal purge notices, this policy largely focuses on informing, updating, and educating voters. To do so, the Secretary of State’s office must oversee counties in:

  • Immediately updating voter lists by a set deadline when voters change residence within the same county
  • Sending a follow-up-letter to past purge-notice-recipients explaining the error and assuring that they are still active
  • Informing future intra-county movers ahead of time that their registration information will be updated with the latest address and their new polling place
  • Allowing voters to verify new address — -while emphasizing that a) there will be no consequence if they do not respond, and b) that they do not have to take any further action to maintain their registration.

The Secretary of State’s office should also publish (in multiple languages) educational materials and PSAs on their website informing voters of their rights. Ideally, they should reproduce this information on other sites frequented by black, Hispanic, and Asian voters. Overall, this policy change is intended to increase transparency and voter education.4 More specifically, the objectives of the change are to widen accessibility to the polls and to eliminate bureaucratic red tape that often hinders low-income voters.

This policy change will be mandatory for the Secretary of State’s office, who will also be responsible for administering it to the counties. However, if the Secretary of State fails to follow through, civil rights groups and federal government can intervene through the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. Under Section 8(f), this act specifically prohibits sending purge notices to registered voters who have moved within the same county. Purge notices to voters who move within the same county also violate sections 21–2–233(b) of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA). It is important to note that this does indicate that the current status quo is illegal, and policy changes would actually be protected by state and federal law. 

Policy changes to the status quo have been successfully made in jurisdictions in the past. Most recently, Florida, Kansas, Iowa and Texas, have all, at some point, been ordered by the courts to halt purges or restore thousands of voters to the rolls.6 In the end, this yields a value-added of having a more informed and engaged voter base and increasing access and diversity in terms of accessibility.

In the short run, this policy change may not a huge spike or change in voter turnout, since it will take a while for correction letters to reach those who were sent purge notices. Additionally, since this is an off-year for high-profile elections, voter turnout will probably stay low regardless. However, as time goes on, there should be a significant rise in voter turnout and an increasingly informed voter base. Ultimately, in the long run, these changes to the roll purge policy should successfully maintain voter turnout at stable, high levels.

References

1 Torres, K. (2017, June 30). Georgia to share data with Trump commission on voter fraud. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved from http://www.ajc.com/news/state--regional-govt--politics/georgia-share-data-with-trump-commission-voter-fraud/g1cIww5anWQoeiDGbTwa9K/

2 Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, Inc., and Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda v. Brian Kemp. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia Gainesville Division (Ga. 2016). Retrieved from https://lawyerscommittee.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/2016-09-13-GA-NAACP-Kemp-Complaint-FINAL.pdf

3 Torres, K. (2017, July 31). Georgia cancels registration of more than 591,500 voters. Politically Georgia. Retrieved from http://www.myajc.com/news/state--regional-govt--politics/georgia-cancels-registration-more-than-591-500-voters/ozSuX227UpNe18YGQ0hYUJ/

4 Young, S. (2017, September 18). The ACLU of Georgia Recommends Six Steps to Reverse Secretary of State’s Violations of State and Federal Law. ACLU of Georgia. Retrieved from https://www.acluga.org/en/news/aclu-georgia-recommends-six-steps-reverse-secretary-states-violations-state-and-federal-law

5 Young, S. (2017, July 11). Letter to Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Retrieved from https://www.acluga.org/sites/default/files/voter_purge_ltr_7_11_17.pdf