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Georgia Election Officials Violate Voting Rights Act

October 28, 2008

For Immediate Release:  October 27, 2008

 

CONTACTS:        

Meg Reilly, mreilly@gloverparkgroup.com, 202-292-6975

James Freedland, jfreedland@aclu.org

Estuardo Rodriguez,  estuardo@rabengroup.com, 202-631-2892

 

GEORGIA ELECTION OFFICIALS VIOLATE VOTING RIGHTS ACT

Preliminary injunction issued over "flagging" of suspected non-citizens

 October 27, 2008-The United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia today issued a preliminary injunction against Secretary of State Karen Handel, finding that a database matching process used to flag suspected non-citizens on the voter rolls was adopted in violation of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. The lawsuit was filed on October 9th by a coalition of voting rights groups on behalf of Cherokee County resident Jose Morales, a naturalized citizen whose eligibility was repeatedly challenged by election officials even after providing proof of his citizenship. At the time the lawsuit was filed Morales and potentially thousands of others were at risk of having their names purged from voter registrations rolls under Georgia's database matching procedure.

"Today's decision recognizes that Section 5 review remains an essential step for states making changes to their voter registration procedures.  Faulty or biased records matching has the potential to wrongfully disenfranchise thousands of voters at a time, and voters whose registrations are questioned can easily feel intimidated, " said Jon Greenbaum, director of Voting Rights Project for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "We believe that Georgia cannot demonstrate to the Department of Justice that these database matching procedures are fair and nondiscriminatory."

"The Court's decision recognizes the importance of ensuring that every citizen has the right to vote and will not be denied the right to vote based on flawed data matching procedures," stated MALDEF Regional Counsel Elise Sandra Shore.

"We are pleased the Court found a violation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and that all those who were flagged as potentially ineligible will have the opportunity to vote, whether during early voting, by absentee vote, or on Election Day," said Laughlin McDonald, director of the Southern Regional ACLU. "We are also pleased that nobody will be automatically purged from the voter lists, and that all flagged voters will be given an opportunity to resolve their challenges."

Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Georgia is required to obtain preclearance before it implements any new practice or procedure that will affect voting.  Today's order found that the Secretary of State had put the new matching procedures into effect in 2007, which caused Mr. Morales and several thousand others to be flagged as possible non-citizens.  The court found that this violated Section 5 because the new procedures had not first been precleared. Under the injunction, Georgia officials may not use the citizenship matching program to permanently deny any voter registration applications or permanently remove any existing voter registrants from the rolls unless and until the State obtains Section 5 preclearance for its new procedure. Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the state made a Section 5 submission to the U.S.  Department of Justice, but no decision has been made.

Georgia's record-check process, which relies on the State's Department of Driver's Services ("DDS") database, presents a particularly unfair challenge to new citizens. There is currently no procedure to update the DDS database in order to reflect subsequent naturalization by persons who were legal residents when they obtained their DDS license. This creates a systematic bias against naturalized citizens, needlessly jeopardizing their voter registration status and unduly burdening their right to vote. Over 100,000 people became naturalized citizens in just the past 10 years in Georgia, according to the Department of Homeland Security, so the potential for harm is significant.

The lawsuit was filed by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Voting Rights Project, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and attorney Brian Spears. 

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