Democracy is on the line in Georgia, but it doesn’t need to be.

Posted on November 6, 2014

Urge your representative to enact the Voting Rights Amendment Act Urge your state election officials to reform our elections


Woah, Georgia, Georgia

No peace, no peace I find
Just an old, sweet song
Keeps Georgia on my mind

Georgia on Election Day was an old song that certainly leaves one without peace, but there was nothing sweet about it.  In a throwback to the days of Jim Crow, up to 40,000 Georgians who had registered to vote found themselves confused about whether their ballots would even be counted, cut out of democracy by antiquated voting laws and procedures.  The crash of Georgia’s voter information website on Election Day further fueled the mass voter confusion that resulted from the questionable handling of voter registrations prior to Election Day by the state’s election administrators. 

The forty-eight hour cycle leading up to and through Election Day demonstrates that no matter how old you are in Georgia, whether you are a first-time voter or a long-time voter, your access to the ballot is not guaranteed.  The national Election Protection hotline received 2,000 calls from distressed Georgians.  Two stories stand out and illustrate the problem best. 

One voter I spoke with is a disabled 71-year old African American woman who is a retired nurse and a regular voter since having become a naturalized citizen thirty-five years ago.  Although she filled out two voter registration applications, one of which involved a direct mailing to her board of elections, she never received any follow-up on her voter registration attempt.  A senior citizen with a double-knee replacement, she woke up on Election Day “in pain but determined to go vote.”  She spent the last week trying to find out how to cast a valid ballot in light of a recent controversial state court ruling which contributed to uncertainty among scores of thousands of voters.  Sadly, despite all her best efforts, when she turned up to vote on Election Day with her cane, she had to cast a provisional ballot which may not be counted.

The second story demonstrates the spectrum of the issue.  A nineteen year old African-American woman, who is coincidentally also a nursing student, registered to vote on-campus along with two of her cousins.  While they all live in the same town and registered to vote together, her cousins’ forms were processed but hers was not.  Nor was she notified of any shortcoming in the processing of her form.  To add insult to injury, when she turned up to vote at her polling place, she was not even offered a provisional ballot that would at least record her attempt to vote.  For a first-time voter, the first experience voting sets the stage for future voting experiences, and for this young woman, a series of poor administrative decisions has tarnished that experience. 

Before Election Day, a Georgia state judge refused to provide relief to civil rights groups who petitioned to protect 40,000 voters of color and youth voters from potential disenfranchisement on Election Day.  Over 100,000 voter registration forms had been submitted in advance of the October 6th deadline.  However, less than two weeks before the election, 40,000 new registrants were still missing from the voter rolls. 

Judge Christopher S. Brasher denied the relief on grounds that the state had not failed a clear legal duty because the forms were apparently still being processed.  The ruling meant that many good-faith registrants were required to vote with a provisional ballot if their names were not added to the voter rolls in time.  The ruling also calls into question whether the provisional ballot will even be counted if the registrant did not make it onto the rolls.

It’s the 21st Century.  Georgia could have avoided this last minute trouble if it had a more modernized voter registration process, including the critical protection offered by Same Day Voter Registration (SDR).  SDR is a secure one-step process by which a voter can offer proof of residence and identity on Election Day and/or during early voting, to update, make correction or register for the first time, and be assured that his or her ballot will actually be counted. 

SDR also increases political participation.  For example, during the 2010 midterm, SDR states led the nation in turnout by six percentage points.  That degree of enfranchisement can be outcome-determinative, and especially in races on the local level.  While it is too soon to tell whether SDR would have had an outcome-determinative effect in Georgia, it bears mention that, at the least, a runoff between the two leading Senatorial candidates would have been possible.

The Secretary of State’s failure to process registrations effectively for Election Day compounds the state’s more recent voting rights track record.  With a relatively new photo ID law in place – one of the strictest in the country – and an (unsuccessful) effort this year to cut back on early voting, Georgia seems to be regressing rather than moving forward to expand the vote.  Part of the problem is that, with the Voting Rights Act now gutted by the Supreme Court, Georgia and a number of states and localities have enacted more burdensome laws for voting.  That’s bad for voter and poll-worker alike.

There’s a silver lining though.  Georgia has already taken a step in the right direction by allowing voters to register online if they have a valid license or identification card issued by the state department of driver services.  It also uses electronic poll books.  With these two measures in place, Georgia can join the twelve other states and the District of Columbia in offering Same Day Voter Registration.  With good state reforms on the book – plus the protection of the Voting Rights Amendment Act – democracy can be safeguarded in Georgia, and in states across the country.

What can you do?  Act Now:

Urge your representative to enact the Voting Rights Amendment Act Urge your state election officials to reform our elections

Office: Common Cause Georgia, Common Cause National

Issues: Voting and Elections, Voting And Elections

Tags: Protect The Vote

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