Georgia voter rolls seem to still be in flux even after a federal judge rejected a move to restore the registration of nearly 100,000 voters purged for failing to vote for more than eight years or not responding to notices of their pending removal.
U.S. District Judge Steve Jones in late December denied a request for an injunction against the purge sought by Fair Fight Action — the advocacy group founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams who lost the 2018 gubernatorial race by a narrow margin to then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp. The judge ruled that the recent purge of the voter rolls by current Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger did not violate federal constitutional rights.
However, Jones said there should be “an immediate and accurate interpretation” of HB 316 by state courts “as to its effect on the voters who were already on the state’s inactive list” before the effective date of the 2019 law, which extended the allowable time of no contact by voters to nine years, according to Fair Fight Action and other voter advocacy groups. Judge Jones opened the door for the plaintiffs to seek emergency relief at the state court level, saying he would, upon their request, stay the federal litigation. And on that point, Fair Fight Action said, “We are exploring additional legal options to compel the Secretary of State to follow House Bill 316.” Thus, Georgians are likely to see the continuation of this drawn-out battle over voting rights.
For Raffensperger, the judge’s decision was vindication. The ruling “upheld Georgia’s decision to continue to maintain clean voter rolls,” a Raffensperger spokesperson said. “Despite activists efforts and lawsuits that only waste taxpayer dollars, Georgia is continuing to ensure every eligible voter can vote and voter lists remain accurate.” Notwithstanding the latest legal twist, the indisputable fact is that Georgia voter registration is nothing short of robust with the total at 7 million, bolstered by more than 350,000 new voters in the past year — most of them registered under the state’s automatic driver’s license registration program.
The voter purging issue is illustrated in microcosm in Cobb County. In November, the secretary of state’s office announced it would remove about 300,000 people statewide from the voter rolls by Dec. 16 as required by state and federal law. That number included 22,000 people with Cobb addresses, a huge figure, yet by the deadline only 55 of them had contacted the secretary of state to request that they not be removed, according to Cobb’s director of elections and voter registration, Janine Eveler. To put that in perspective, the percentage was 0.25 percent — just one-fourth of one percent. And that was after the voters had been sent one to two mailings before receiving a final one just before the deadline for removal — which Eveler termed “a good last step in the process.” We agree, and it’s one of the important ways the state tries to protect the right to vote.
Fair Fight Action’s communications director, Seth Bringman, stated the organization’s position on updating the voter rolls, for which he concedes there are legitimate reasons. Those reasons, he says, are: “One is if a Georgian passes away, and two is if a Georgian moves. But it is unacceptable and we believe unconstitutional for the use-it-or-lose-it policy to be applied and take Georgians’ right to vote away.”
So the stage is set for the battle over voting rights to serve as prelude to the state’s March 24 presidential primary. While the efforts by Fair Fight Action and other advocacy groups may not materially affect the total of actual voters, they are expected to energize more minority and young voters who are fertile ground for the progressive policies of Democrats like Stacey Abrams in Georgia and the Democrats vying for their party’s presidential nominee on the national stage.
If all citizens simply did their civic duty, we wouldn’t be having this fight over purging thousands of inactive voters. As we have observed before, when it comes to voting, the first responsibility is with each citizen to register and to maintain that registration by voting and by updating that registration when necessary.
It’s called personal responsibility.