Georgia Says It Will Allow Tens of Thousands of Previously-Rejected Voters to Cast Ballots This November


OCTOBER 5, 2016

In response to a lawsuit by voting rights groups, Kemp tells court he will suspend
flawed database matching prerequisite and give recently-canceled registrants the opportunity to vote

ATLANTA, GA and WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tens of thousands of eligible Georgia voters whose voter registrations had been canceled or were at risk of being canceled will be able to cast a ballot this November, according to a letter filed with a federal court by attorneys for Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

Voters whose identifying information did not match when compared against Department of Driver Services (DDS) or Social Security Administration (SSA) databases will be able to vote by absentee ballot, during early voting, or on Election Day if they show one of the following forms of ID:

On September 14, a coalition of voting rights groups filed a federal lawsuit against Kemp, alleging that Georgia’s discriminatory exact-match voter registration verification protocol violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and denied eligible Georgians their fundamental right to vote under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.  The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Project Vote, Campaign Legal Center, and the Voting Rights Institute at Georgetown University Law Center, along with the New York City office of Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP and Atlanta-based firm of Caplan Cobb LLP, acting as pro bono counsel, filed the suit on behalf of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta.

Since 2010, Georgia has been implementing a voter registration verification process that requires all of the information on a voter’s registration application to exactly match information in the DDS or SSA databases.  If even a single letter, number, hyphen, space, or apostrophe did not exactly match the database information, and the applicant failed to correct that mismatch within 40 days, the application was automatically “canceled”—i.e. rejected—and the applicant was not placed on the registration rolls.

According to the lawsuit, this flawed protocol resulted in tens of thousands of eligible applicants being wrongfully rejected, with significantly higher rates of rejection for Black, Asian-American, and Latino registrants.  For example, since July 2013, White applicants submitted 47.2 percent of all voter registration applications in Georgia, but constituted only 13.6 percent of applicants who have been rejected as a result of the verification protocol.  By contrast, 63.6 percent of rejected applicants were Black, even though Black applicants submitted only 29.4 percent of all applications during that period.  In other words, Black voters were 8 times more likely to be rejected than White voters.  Similarly, Latino applicants constituted 3.6 percent of total applicants and 7.9 percent of the rejected applicant pool.

At the time they filed the lawsuit, the groups also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, seeking emergency relief for Georgia voters.  In response to the motion for emergency relief, on September 23, counsel for Secretary Kemp filed a letter with the court, indicating that Georgia would suspend-the automatic cancellation of applications that failed to match the DDS or SSA databases, and move voters canceled for failing to respond to a “non-match” letter back into “pending” status.  This will affect voters canceled since October 2014.  Similarly, voters who did not match and were advised they would be canceled will also remain in “pending” status.  As a result, these voters will now be able to cast a regular ballot—and be moved to “active” voter status—if they simply show appropriate ID at the polls or produce evidence of citizenship to a deputy registrar when they request a ballot.  The State has also indicated that a new letter will go out to previously-canceled applicants affected by the State’s policy change, informing them that they will be able to clear up the non-match issue and vote at the polls.

On the basis of these changes to the Secretary of State’s procedures—which were acknowledged in a court order—the groups withdrew their motion for emergency relief and are working toward a complete resolution of the matter with the Secretary of State.

“We appreciate Secretary Kemp’s agreement to reform certain aspects of the voter registration verification process following the commencement of this litigation on September 14, and will continue to work with the State to ensure the affected applicants learn about the changes so that they are prepared to do what is necessary in order to vote in the November general election,” said Julie Houk, senior special counsel in the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law.  Houk also noted that affected applicants who have questions or concerns about the process or who encounter difficulties when they attempt to vote may contact the nonpartisan, nationwide Election Protection hotline, 1-866-OURVOTE, for assistance.

“The Secretary of State’s agreement to make these changes will help to ensure that data entry errors and computer glitches will no longer be allowed to trump otherwise valid voter registration applications submitted by Georgians who are eligible to vote,” said Helen Butler, executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.  Butler added:  “We now need to make sure that the applicants whose registration forms were rejected since October 1, 2014, or who are now in pending status, are made aware of their right to compete the registration process and vote in the November general election by showing one of the six forms of acceptable photo ID during early voting or on Election Day.”

“The right to vote is the most precious right Americans have,” said Gerry Hebert of the Campaign Legal Center.  Hebert added:  “We are pleased that Georgia officials agreed to quickly address the problems identified in our lawsuit, as it will permit Georgia voters victimized by the flawed data base matching procedure to exercise their voting rights in the November election.”

“The exact match protocol is especially difficult for Asian Americans whose traditional names have too many variations and order.  We found hundreds of our community that were kicked off the rolls,” said Stephanie Cho, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta, a plaintiff in the suit.

“This is more than a vindication of our claims; it’s a win for our democracy,” said Francys Johnson, president of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.  “It’s good when reason, common sense, and good case law prevail.”

“In this important election year, we are encouraged to see Georgia taking steps to address the very serious problems the lawsuit identified” said Michelle Kanter Cohen, election counsel for Project Vote.  “No American citizen should be denied their fundamental right to vote because of bureaucratic procedures.  We look forward to working with the State to ensure every eligible Georgia voter gets to cast a ballot this November.”