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Georgia Voter List Purge Challenged in Federal Lawsuit

October 9, 2008

For Immediate Release:  October 9, 2008

 

CONTACTS:        

Meg Reilly, mreilly@gloverparkgroup.com, 202-292-6975
Ray Conger, rconger@gloverparkgroup.com, 202-292-6961

 

GEORGIA VOTER LIST PURGE CHALLENGED IN FEDERAL LAWSUIT
Voting rights coalition urges U.S. District Court to halt last-minute eligibility hearings

October 9, 2008 - A coalition of voting rights groups filed a lawsuit today on behalf of Cherokee County resident Jose Morales against Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, asking a federal court in Atlanta to halt the use of database matching procedures that inaccurately flag United States citizens as non-citizens, jeopardizing their attempts to register and vote.   Coalition leaders argue that that these practices violate key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.  If they continue to be applied, they could threaten the rights of thousands of eligible Georgia voters.

"Eligible citizens should not be required to jump through impossible hoops to perform the basic right of voting," said Jon Greenbaum, director of Voting Rights Project for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "These requirements are in clear violation of election law and present a systematic bias against naturalized citizens."

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.  The coalition of voting rights groups argues that Secretary Handel is violating two federal election laws. First, the Secretary of State failed to obtain "preclearance" to implement citizenship record-checks for the State's voter registration rolls, as is required under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  Second, the complaint contends that by using the results of these record-checks to have voters challenged within 90 days of the upcoming election, the Secretary of State is also violating the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, popularly known as the "Motor Voter" Act.  The plaintiff in the lawsuit, Jose Morales, is a naturalized citizen and student at Kennesaw State University.  A hearing challenging Mr. Morales' eligibility to vote is scheduled for Wednesday, October 15th in Cherokee County.

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 repeated challenge of the citizenship of voters in Georgia, including Latino voters, appears to be the latest tactic to suppress the right to vote in the State of Georgia.  It violates federal law and we are going to court to stop it," said MALDEF Regional Counsel Elise Shore.

The ACLU also weighed in: "The Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act were intended to protect voters from "October surprises," the last minute purging of registered voters on questionable data," said Neil Bradley, Associate Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "Georgia's Secretary of State, whose job it is to maintain accurate voting lists, has changed the rules out of the public eye, avoiding scrutiny of the new voter purge efforts. If the state continues these practices, thousands of eligible voters could be wrongfully removed from the voter rolls and unable to vote in November."

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Election Protection
Election Protection is the nation's largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition, led by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Through its 1-866-OUR-VOTE Hotline (1-866-687-8683) and dedicated team of legal experts and trained volunteers, Election Protection helps all American voters, including traditionally disenfranchised groups, gain access to the polls and overcome obstacles to voting, offering live assistance. The coalition has more than 100 partners at the national, state and local level, and is providing live voter protection services now through Election Day for all 50 states. For more information about Election Protection and the 1-866-OUR-VOTE Hotline, please visit: www.866ourvote.org.

Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers' Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of housing, community development, employment, voting, education and environmental justice.  For more information about the LCCRUL, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.

ACLU Voting Rights Project
Established in 1965, the ACLU Voting Rights Project has worked to protect the gains in political participation since passage of the historic Voting Rights Act (VRA) that same year. Since its inception, the Voting Rights Project has aggressively and successfully challenged efforts that dilute minority voting strength or obstruct the ability of minority communities to elect candidates of their choice. The Project has filed more than 300 lawsuits to enforce the provisions of the VRA and the U.S. Constitution.

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
Founded in 1968 in San Antonio, Texas, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the nation's leading non-profit Latino legal organization, promotes and protects the civil rights of Latinos through litigation, advocacy, community education and outreach, leadership development, and higher education scholarships.  For more information about MALDEF, visit:  www.maldef.org

 

 

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