Thousands of people in Cobb might be removed from state voter rolls before the holidays.
The Georgia secretary of state’s office released a list Wednesday of about 300,000 people statewide who, it argues, must be removed from voter rolls according to state and federal law. About 22,000 are current or former residents of Cobb County who have either moved, died or declined to participate in the last two general election cycles.
Civil rights groups have decried the move.
“The secretary’s office has a history of massive error in canceling registrations,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in a news release.
“People being removed for simply not voting is unethical and undemocratic. We should be investing in ways to make voting easier, not harder,” said the Rev. James Woodall, state president of the Georgia NAACP. “We pledge to utilize our resources to not only ensure that no voter is unlawfully purged but also commit to challenging the legal framework of the practice altogether.”
Federal and state law require election officials to trim registration records of people who have died or changed addresses. And Georgia law specifically requires officials to remove voters that have been “inactive” for two general elections and have not had contact with election officials during that time.
Next week, the secretary of state will begin notifying those on the list of their inactive status by sending letters to their last known address. They will have 30 days to respond to the letters or update their registration online or at their county voter registrar’s office.
This year, the General Assembly passed a law that mandates the secretary of state notify, via mail, those due for removal. Brad Raffensperger, who has served as secretary since January, went further by putting the list of names online, which can be searched by name, address, county and registration number.
“As a convenience to those on the list, the notice they get in the mail will include a postage-paid postcard that they can simply sign and drop into any mailbox, no stamps required,” said a news release from the Raffensperger’s office.
Last year’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams accused the eventual winner and then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican, of voter suppression for purging voting records. Those removed were disproportionately people of color, according to the NAACP. About three-quarters of African Americans in Georgia identify as Democrats, according to a 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center.
In a column the MDJ published in September, Raffensperger said “the reality of elections in Georgia could not be further from the misinformation spread by Stacey Abrams and her affiliated groups.”
“Georgia has record voter registration and record voter participation,” he argued, attributing it to the “trifecta” of automated voter registration, no-excuse absentee voting and at least three weeks of in-person advance voting.
Andrea Young, the executive director of the Georgia ACLU, shot back.
“Contrary to the secretary’s assertions, the increases in registration and voting do not refute the reality of pervasive voter suppression tactics used by officials in Georgia,” she said, citing a list of lawsuits the organization had filed — all of which, she added, it won.
“Throughout the 2018 election cycle, the ACLU of Georgia brought legal action against the state and local governments — run by both Democrats and Republicans — for wrongly purging 160,000 registered voters from the active voter rolls, attempting to close polling locations in predominantly African American communities, failing to process absentee ballots properly, using government resources to misdirect voters to the secretary of state’s campaign website, illegally rejecting absentee ballot requests, failing to provide bilingual ballots in Spanish and English or draw fair school board district lines that comply with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and providing misleading voter registration forms on the secretary of state’s website.”
Wednesday’s news release from the secretary of state defended itself against claims of partisanship.
“The process started under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, signed into federal law by then-President Bill Clinton,” it said. “Additional laws were passed in Georgia regarding list maintenance in 1994 by a Democrat-majority General Assembly and signed into law by a Democrat governor. Lastly, these laws were implemented by a Democrat Georgia Secretary of State.”
Of those deemed “inactive,” 34% filed a change of address request with the U.S. Postal Service showing they have moved to a different county or state, 27% had election mail returned as undeliverable and 38% have had no contact with their county election officials since prior to the 2012 presidential election and failed to respond to a confirmation card sent by their county elections office, Raffensperger said in his news release.
If your name is on the list and you are still an eligible Georgia voter, update your registration at https://registertovote.sos.ga.gov, contact your county elections office, or respond to the confirmation card that will be included with the mailed notice.
“Keep in mind that the notice is mailed to your last known address of your voter registration, which may not be accurate if you have moved and not updated your registration,” the release reads. “Any registered voter can check their registration information to confirm it is accurate and up-to-date atmvp.sos.ga.gov.”