Georgia State Voter Registration Scandal of 2014

Quotes from 40,000 Voter Registrations Have Gone Missing in Georgia, and They're Probably Lost Forever by Naomi Shavin published in The New Republic:

.. I spoke with Georgia NAACP President Francys Johnson to figure out how 40,000 registrations could simply go "missing." In Georgia, when a person registers to vote, his application is matched against two data systems to verify his identity. The first is the Georgia driver's license system, which keeps records for every person in Georgia with a license. The second is a data system with the social security numbers of every Georgia resident. If neither of these systems yields a match, the registration application goes on a pending list, which is supposed to prompt a notification to the would-be voter that their application needs additional identification. Unfortunately, according to Johnson, many of these letters were never sent, and because a person on the pending list is removed from the system after 30 days, the registration of such an individual goes "missing."

Whether or not this system is a logical means of verifying identity, it undeniably disadvantages certain kinds of people. Matching a registration against driver's license data won't work for any would-be voters who can't afford to get a license and renew it, let alone buy a car; live in an urban area with public transportation and don't need a license; are elderly and have lost driving privileges; are young and haven't yet taken some of the traditional first steps of adulthood, like getting a full-time job, that may require having a car. (Federal law does not require a driver's license to vote.) Basically, such a requirement puts many socio-economically disadvantaged (and likely ethnically diverse), urban, younger, and older people –most of whom the Republican Party is not overwhelmingly popular with –in a bad position.

The second data system check is even easier to fail simply because most voters aren't even aware of it. Federal law does not require the last four digits of a person's SSN to vote, and so this field is optional on voter registration forms. In fact, Johnson says that the last four digits of a person's social security number is the "least likely piece of information [you] get from a voter at a registration drive." Because voters don't regularly offer this information, the state has nothing to verify, and thus the would-be voter fails the verification process. Moreover, Georgia technically accepts other types of identification for voter registration (like utility bills, property tax records, and state-issued IDs), but the current matching system, Johnson says, isn't checking these forms of ID.

Quotes from Georgia Judge Dismisses Lawsuit on Voter Registration By Alan Blinder, New York Times 28 Oct, 2014:

Judge Christopher S. Brasher, of the Fulton County Superior Court, said in a 14-page ruling that he believed state and county officials were complying with the Georgia elections standards that govern voter registration.

Judge Brasher, who sits in Atlanta, issued his decision four days after he heard oral arguments in the litigation filed by the NAACP and the New Georgia Project, an officially nonpartisan group founded by the state House's Democratic leader, Stacey Abrams.

The organizations contended in their lawsuit that the Georgia secretary of state, Brian P. Kemp, and certain county election boards had not properly handled applications from more than 40,000 residents, many of them minorities and young people.

The groups argued that regulators did not quickly process applications and had not contacted prospective voters who submitted incomplete forms.

The organizations alleged that the decisions essentially amounted to a lockout from the polls for thousands of Georgians.

But Judge Brasher wrote: "Not only is there no proof that the respondents have failed to fulfill their duties, but there is also affirmative proof to the contrary. The secretary of state and the county registrars have supplied evidence in their responsive pleadings, in their motions to dismiss and at the hearing on this matter that they have fulfilled, and that they are continuing to fulfill, their mandatory statutory duties regarding newly registered voters."

...Kemp, a Republican, hailed Judge Brasher's decision in a lawsuit he condemned as "frivolous" and "ridiculous."

Quotes from How voter suppression helped produce the lowest turnout in decades, by Juan Thomson, The Intercept 7 Nov. 2014:

Raphael Warnock, leader of Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, worked with the New Georgia Project to register some 80,000 new and mostly black voters. New Georgia Project's efforts was the state's largest voter registration drive in 50 years, according to reports. "It's a fundamental, basic American right to vote", Warnock told me. Such thinking explains why he was so angry when half of those new voters failed to appear on the rolls this fall. "The Georgia Secretary of State's office had no explanation at all as to where those voters went", Warnock explained. A person in the Georgia Secretary of State's office declined comment (after alerting me to the fact that "the election's over"). But earlier this year, that same office accused the New Georgia Project of voter registration fraud. In the end only 50 questionable forms were found.

From Interviews by Democracy Now 4 Nov 2014

DN: The New Georgia Project and the Georgia chapter of the NAACP are suing the office of Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, saying about half of the 80,000 voter registration forms they submitted do not appear on state rolls. Last week, Fulton County Court Judge Christopher Brasher sided with Kemp and dismissed the lawsuit. Brasher wrote the New Georgia Project, quote, "failed to allege, much less show, the counties' registrars past or continued failure to process voter registration applications."

REP. STACEY ABRAMS: It's actually more than 40,000. We are using the most conservative estimate. The challenge is not that the counties, we think, did anything untoward, but that the state of Georgia, headed by the secretary of state, requires that every form that is completed go through a series of screens, including the Social Security Administration proof of citizenship. And the problem is that, according to experts, that proof could be a false negative almost 40 percent of the time, which means that you could have a 20-year-old who's a college student without an ID, without a driver's license, who submits his Social Security number and is rejected falsely but is never told that they're rejected and is never told why. And we think that a variety of these problems –clerical errors, screenings –these have all led to more than 40,000 of our applications not being properly processed. DN: can you respond to the judge? He said you "failed to allege, much less show, the counties' registrars past or continued failure to process voter registration applications." What evidence did you submit?

REP. STACEY ABRAMS: Well, the problem with our process is that we don't have information unless the secretary of state gives it to us. The reason we went with a writ of mandamus –it is an extraordinary request –we went with that because we couldn't get the secretary of state to meet with us and tell us what was happening. And so we used the legal route of the writ of mandamus. However, I do want to point out that Judge Brasher did not allow for discovery. He did not allow for an evidentiary hearing. So we were essentially being asked to prove something we suspected without being able to access the information that would give us the proof. DN: The county judge dismissed the lawsuit brought by your group, the New Georgia Project, and the Georgia chapter of the NAACP over the more than 40,000 voter registration records that have gone missing. Fulton County Court Judge Christopher –Judge Brasher wrote the petitioners, quote, "failed to allege, much less show, the counties' registrars past or continued failure to process voter registration applications." The judge went on to exonerate Secretary of State Kemp, saying, quote, "the Petitioners have failed to come forward with evidence showing that the Secretary of State has failed to carry out this duty, or even that this duty is ripe, since it can only be carried out after the various counties' election registrars register an eligible voter." Your response to that?

REP. STACEY ABRAMS: I think it's a poor reading of what the law says. The law requires, and the state has set, the secretary of state is essentially the CEO of elections. He's the chief elections officer. That means it's his job to tell the counties what to do. When the counties do that job, he sets up the screenings, the use of the secretary of state's website, the –I'm sorry, the use of the Social Security Administration, the use of the Department of Driver Services, the use of the Department of Corrections. He batch processes all of the letters that say that there are deficiencies. He batch processes all of the precinct cards. The secretary of state is actually the head of elections. The counties are essentially franchisees that get information from the secretary of state or have to follow the secretary of state's orders. And the problem we have with the judge's response was that what he said is, "Well, out of six million, 40,000 is not substantial noncompliance, and so we're not going to hold him accountable." But worse, what he said is that the remedy for not being registered to vote is to cast a provisional ballot, which in the state of Georgia can be akin to not being able to cast a ballot at all. So, essentially, there is no do-over. Our issue is that the secretary of state is in charge of elections, and to put the responsibility on counties that have to follow his directions, use his systems and abide by his rulings, and then to say that he's not responsible is a very poor reading of state law, but even worse, it's a poor reading of our system of voting.

DN: can you give us some background on this voter drive? Who are the people that you signed up? And what was thinking behind launching it in the first place?

REP. STACEY ABRAMS: So, I founded the New Georgia Project. It's an offshoot of a nonprofit I started 16 years ago. And in 2013 we did a lot of work in southwest Georgia around the Affordable Care Act. And what we discovered was that a number of people who were being denied access to healthcare because of Medicaid expansion refusal in Georgia didn't understand why they couldn't have access to healthcare. They thought it was the fault of the president, and they didn't realize it was the governor and the Legislature. And most of those folks weren't registered to vote. The more we looked into this issue and the larger conversation about civic engagement, I realized that we needed to register the more 800,000 unregistered African-American, Latino and Asian voters in Georgia. And so we began to register these voters. It was a 145-day effort. We went to 151 of 159 counties, we collected registration forms from 146 counties, and we registered more than 86,000 people. In addition, we funded an additional 12 groups, and they registered more than 30,000. So our total registration over the course of that 145 days was in excess of 120,000 registration forms collected. ...

NAACP HEAD BEN JEALOUS: ...what is terrifying about Georgia is you see how a man who could be a good man on most days, Mr. Kemp, can get worried, in a very public way, about the impact of these changes in who's voting in Georgia and how it could impact his party, and then very publicly appear to be dragging his feet. The allegations that he made are so ridiculous, it's just like hard to comprehend. Georgia's law says as soon ink goes onto a voter reg form, it has to be turned in. So if I hand you a form at your door and you write down "Mickey Mouse," I've got to hand it in. When you have a law like that, up to 10 percent of the forms can be impacted. Out of 86,000, he's been able to find maybe 50 [bad ones]. You know, if it was above, say, 8,600, we would be concerned, because it's their own law that requires you to turn in these problematic forms. They [the New Georgia Project] did such a great job, that when there could have been 86,000, there's 50.

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