Lawsuit Claims Georgia’s Voter Registration Process violates Voting Rights Act

A federal lawsuit filed this week says that the state of Georgia’s voter registration process violates the Voting Rights Act and is hurting people who are definitely eligible to vote. And that it could be something as simple as a wrong letter in your name.

Secretary of of State Brian Kemp’s office responded by saying the suit “is an attempt from liberal groups to disrupt voter registration before November’s important election.”

But Julie Houk, from Lawyers’ for Civil Rights says that’s simply untrue. “”The Secretary of State should be interested in making sure every eligible Georgian who wants to vote can vote and this process is preventing people from voting,” she said.

The legal action represents several plantiffs including the Georgia NAACP. Houk says the lawsuit was a last resort after they “attempted to work with the Secretary of State for more than a year.”

Houk says at least two states (Washington and Florida) have been sued over using the same kind of system called exact match.  She says both states have remedied issues that leave potential voters out in the cold and unable to get registered.  “We were under the impression that the same thing would happen in Georgia again after we attempted to work with the state for months.  Then in August we were told no, that the state of Georgia would not be doing anything differently until 2017.”

“This is important because just between the middle of July 2013 and the middle of July 2016, 36,800 applicants who applied to register to vote fell through the system where their applications were either put in pending status or canceled,” said Houk.

She says it’s all about comparing the information ultimately entered by county clerks from a registration form to information about that person gleaned from social security and driver’s license databases.  Houk says if the two (the registration) and the database of social security and driver’s license don’t match perfectly, the applicant often receives a letter (if it’s 40 days before the election) and is told to remedy the problem.  The problem with that she says – is that there is often no way to reconcile the problem because if it’s entered incorrectly there is often no way to match the various databases.

“You’ve got problems where people have multiple last names and sometimes in the data base the clerk will enter a hyphen even though the applicant doesn’t use a hyphen which is enough to kick your application,” she said. “Unfortunately, for people with Asian heritage –  their names fail to match because of issues of second or third names It’s the same thing with Latinos, many people with cultural issues have multiple last names.  We presented some data to them (Georgia Secretary of State’s office) showing how this process was disproportionately preventing African Americans and other minorities from getting on the rolls.”

The Secretary of State issued a statement saying the system used was pre-cleared with the U.s. Justice Department in 2010.  But Houk says since then, at least two states, including Florida that were also using this system have fixed issues which make it easier for people to get registered. She says Georgia should do the same.  “If the state understands that they’re disenfranchising eligible voters they need to do something about it,” Houk said.

Here is the complete statement from an official with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office:

The verification process Georgia currently uses was pre-cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2010. This lawsuit is an effort by liberal groups to disrupt voter registration just weeks before November’s important election.”

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