Common Cause and Georgia NAACP Appeal Lower Court Ruling Greenlighting Georgia Voter Roll Purge

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  • David Vance

Common Cause and the Georgia NAACP filed notice of appeal today with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in response to a lower court dismissal of their complaint against Georgia Secretary of State Kemp for violating section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) regarding how voters are purged from the registration rolls.

“The law regarding voter registration is very clear, and no one – not even Secretary Kemp – is above it,” said Sara Henderson for Common Cause Georgia. “We must do everything we can to ensure eligible voters are properly registered to vote, and that those registrations are maintained according to the law. No one deserves to show up on election day only to learn that he or she has been unfairly – and illegally – removed from the process. Our system of governance requires that all eligible voters have their voices heard, and accounted for.” 

The state of Georgia’s law allows the purging of eligible voters for not voting – a direct violation of the NVRA and the fifty-year-old Voting Rights Act. Common Cause Georgia and the Georgia NAACP, through the law firm of Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, first notified the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, on November 12, 2015, of their intention to file a lawsuit unless the state began complying with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) regarding how it maintains its voter registration lists. The NVRA requires individuals to notify a state’s chief elections official before filing suit.  When Kemp failed to fix the problem, the groups sued. 

This past Friday, March 17, 2017, Judge Timothy C. Batten, Sr., of the Northern District of Georgia, granted defendant Kemp’s motion to dismiss the complaint. The judge acknowledged in his ruling that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals last year found that defendant Ohio Secretary of State Husted’s practices, in a comparable case, violated the NVRA.

“Secretary Kemp has and continues to violate federal law regarding Georgians’ voter registration rights,” said Allegra Chapman, Common Cause Director of Voting and Elections. “We gave him an opportunity to fix it first.  He failed to take that step. We’re disappointed that the lower court didn’t recognize the state’s practices for what they were – violations of the law – but we won’t rest until the rights of all Georgians to be registered and freely cast their ballots are vindicated in court.”

Georgia state law is at odds with the federal law’s requirements regarding how and when to purge individuals’ names from voter registration lists. The NVRA specifically prohibits states from initiating voter registration purges against individuals for having failed to vote; however, Georgia’s law initiates such purging programs precisely after identifying individuals who have failed to vote for the previous three years. Such targeting is prohibited. Due to the state’s practice, as of June 2015, over hundreds of thousands of Georgians have been placed on an inactive list – due to voting inactivity – and await being removed permanently unless they either respond to a notice or appear to vote within the following two election cycles. 

“Instead of limiting our democracy, our elections officials should be looking for ways to ensure the voter registration process – and the act of voting – is free, fair, and accessible to all citizens,” said Georgia NAACP President Francys Johnson. “Secretary of State Kemp is limiting the rights of Georgians, but we believe the appellate court will uphold the rule of law.  Democracy is on the line here, and we have every intention of protecting it.” 

To read the notice of appeal, click here.