Charges of voter suppression have been levied in the governor’s race in Georgia in recent weeks, pitting the secretary of state and GOP candidate Brian Kemp against critics, including his Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams, who say that he’s using his perch as the chief election official to benefit his own candidacy.
The race, which the Cook Political Report currently lists as a toss-up, has received national attention. The controversy has raised questions about whether some Georgians will be turned away at the polls.
Here’s what’s happened so far, and what voters need to know.
In 2017, Georgia passed a new “exact match” law, supported by Kemp, which requires that voter registration applications precisely match information on file with the Georgia Department of Driver Services or the Social Security Administration.
In part because of the new law, 53,000 voter registration applications are now on hold. Some of the holds were caused by a misplaced hyphen or other minor entry error. The Associated Press reported last week that voter registrations by black people represent a disproportionate number of the on-hold applications, and a subsequent federal lawsuit filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law claimed that about 80 percent of the pending applications were submitted by members of minority groups.
The Lawyers’ Committee provides raw call center data about voting problems to ProPublica, but plays no role in our editorial process.
Georgians whose applications have been placed on hold can still cast a ballot in November’s election if they bring one of six acceptable government photo IDs that substantially match the registration application.
In an interview with the Valdosta Daily Times, Kemp called the allegations of voter suppression a “politically motivated, manufactured story,” and said he expects to “prevail in court.”
Criticism of Kemp’s office over the “exact match” policy comes in addition to denunciations over the high number of voters taken off the rolls through a list-maintenance process meant to remove inactive voters. Since 2012, Kemp’s office purged more than 1.4 million voters from the state’s registration rolls, nearly 670,000 in 2017 alone. Individuals who were removed who did not subsequently re-register to vote will not be able to cast a ballot in November’s election.
While election experts agree that cleaning registration lists of people who have moved or died is an essential task, the high number of purged voters under Kemp has raised concerns that thousands may show up to the polls only to find that their registrations have been incorrectly invalidated.
“People from all political stripes should want our election rolls to be clean,” said Myrna Perez, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice Democracy Program. “The reason we’re concerned in Georgia is because the numbers are so very high.”
The federal government had oversight over voter-roll purge policies in Georgia until the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder. According to a report from the Brennan Center, jurisdictions like Georgia, which are no longer required under the Voting Rights Act to submit election laws and policies to the Justice Department for preclearance, purged voters at significantly higher rates than jurisdictions that were not under preclearance in 2013.
Reporting by Greg Palast, an independent investigative journalist, alleges that Georgia removed voters based on information from the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, a controversial initiative created by the Kansas secretary of state’s office that faced scrutiny over its crude matching criteria and security weaknesses.
A spokeswoman from Kemp’s office categorically denied using data from Crosscheck to conduct the voter-roll purge.
“To be crystal clear, Georgia has never used data from the Crosscheck Program to conduct list maintenance in any capacity,” said Candice Broce, the spokeswoman for Kemp. “Zero voters have been removed from the rolls based on Crosscheck data in this state.”
In any event, Georgia voters whose names were removed from the rolls because of the state’s list-purging efforts will not be able to cast a ballot. Voters whose registrations are on hold can still vote if they bring one of the six accepted government-issued photo IDs.
If you’re a Georgia voter concerned about your registration, you should check the Georgia secretary of state’s website to see if it is still valid.
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