Judges Allows Georgia to Remove 309,000 Voter Registrations for List Maintenance

Victor Westerkamp
By Victor Westerkamp
December 19, 2019USshare
Judges Allows Georgia to Remove 309,000 Voter Registrations for List Maintenance
A roll of "I Voted" stickers sit on a table inside a polling station from a file photo in 2018. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A U.S. District Judge in Georgia on Monday gave the green light to the tentative removal of about 309,000 voter registrations from the rolls after in a lawsuit (pdf) by voting rights group Fair Fight Action sought to prevent that from happening.

The number of voters shrunk from 7.4 million to 7.08 million, a decrease of 4 percent, after the state removed 309,000 of 313,000 voter registrations which have had no contact with their county election officials since 2012, have moved interstate, or had mail from election officials returned as undeliverable.

Last month, 313,000 voters were notified in the mail that they had 40 days to save their registrations by notifying the state with postage-paid postcards or updating their voter registration online under Georgia’s “use it or lose it” provision.

Electoral officials state that the majority of those notified have either moved out of the state or have died.

“Accurate and up-to-date voter rolls are vital to secure elections, but at the same time I want to ensure that anyone potentially affected by this routine process has notice and opportunity to update their information,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) said in a statement. “That is why my office is releasing the full list to ensure that people who are still eligible voters can update their information.”

The notices were sent as part of legally-required maintenance of state voter lists. The 309,000 who didn’t reply were removed on Monday night, according to the secretary of state’s office. Those who would still like to vote are able to be re-registering their details or updating their address in person or online.

NTD Photo
Ballot papers are counted in a file photo (Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

Fair Fight Action is an electoral rights group started in August by former Georgia state lawmaker and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who made headlines for refusing to concede after losing in 2018 to Republican and then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp by a narrow margin of about 55,000 votes—more than a year after the biggest maintenance operation in U.S. voting history saw some 534,119 inactive voters removed from state records in July 2017.

Abrams and other Democrats argued at the time that the measures predominantly affect black, young, or unemployed voters who tend to lean left, but Kemp rejected Abrams’s claims of racist voter suppression as “unfair” in an appearance on Fox & Friends, asserting that Georgia’s election system actually makes it “easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

Fair Fight is suing the state over numerous obstacles they say voters met when they wanted to cast their votes and it also argues that the eligibility to vote is simply a constitutional right that should not be meddled with.

“Georgians should not lose their right to vote simply because they have not expressed that right in recent elections,” Fair Fight CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo told The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. “Georgia’s practice of removing voters who have declined to participate in recent elections violates the United States Constitution.”

However, Raffensperger disagreed.

“Proper list maintenance is not only required by long-standing laws but is also important in maintaining the integrity and smooth functioning of elections,” he said, according to the outlet. “Georgia has registered nearly a half-million voters since the last election, clear proof that we are doing things to make it easy for people to vote.”

Judge Jones spoke similarly, indicating that the exclusion is not permanent and that one can reinstate the validity of their registration within 24 to 48 hours, including through the state’s voter registration website.

“It appears that any voter registration cancellations can be undone at a later date,” Jones wrote in his order. “The court’s ruling is based largely on defense counsel’s statement (at today’s hearing) that any voter registration that is canceled today can be restored within 24 to 48 hours.”

On Thursday, Georgia election officials said they had found an error in the way voter’s history was being screened, and that roughly 22,000 voter registrations who last had contact with the office between January and May 2012 were prematurely removed. The 22,000 registrations have since been restored, local media reported, and the voters’ given more time to contact the office before their registrations will be removed.

Voter registration for the Presidential Primary on March 24, 2020, is open until Feb. 24, 2020—28 days in advance of the vote. Registration for the State Primary is open until May 19, 2020. Registration for the State Primary Runoff is open until July 21, 2020. And registration for the General Election is open until Nov. 3, 2020.

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