Georgia Secretary of State Kemp Notified: Stop Illegally Purging Voter Lists
- Scott Swenson, Dale Eisman
Common Cause and Georgia NAACP Take Legal Action
WASHINGTON — In an ongoing debate about how fair and accessible the process of voting is to all Georgians, Common Cause and the Georgia NAACP have put the Secretary of State on notice that his office is illegally purging people from state voter lists, causing additional hardship for voters already challenged by the cost and process.
This notification comes amidst a new crisis of confidence in Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office and its handling of private, highly sensitive data on voter files that the people entrust to his office to maintain and secure.
“In order for our democracy to work for everyone, we have to make sure the process for gaining access to the ballot is fair so everyone’s voice can be heard,” said Allegra Chapman, Common Cause’s director of voting and elections. “The job of administering voter files is an essential function that gets to the very core of people’s trust in our election system. Accuracy, fairness, and security are essential to ensure impartial administration of elections that produce outcomes people trust.”
Common Cause Georgia and the Georgia NAACP, through the law firm of Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, notified the Georgia Secretary of State’s office on November 12 of their intention to file a lawsuit unless the state begins complying with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) with respect to how it maintains its voter registration lists – and who gets cut from the rolls improperly. The NVRA requires individuals to notify a state’s chief elections official before filing suit.
“This isn’t the first, second, or even the third time that Secretary Kemp has clashed with civil rights groups over voter registration” said Francys Johnson, Georgia NAACP President and Statesboro Civil Right Attorney. “Brian Kemp’s tenure as Georgia’s Secretary of State has been marked by other violations of the law and serious errors that created havoc for voters, including lack of transparency; flawed processes; and failure to consult stakeholders.”
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. Due to the state’s practice, as of June 2015, over 800,000 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.
“We should be looking for ways to make the voter registration process more accessible to citizens so we build a stronger and more inclusive democracy,” said Clint Murphy, Common Cause Georgia’s board president. He noted the state’s current mail system does not ensure that all individuals will receive government notices on their registration status – particularly in poorer communities. “Georgia’s practice, then, may hit poor, disabled, and elderly citizens the hardest. Showing up on Election Day only to learn that one is no longer registered, despite having taken steps to ensure he/she is on the books, is hugely disappointing, and results in denial of the opportunity to exert this nation’s most fundamental of constitutional rights,” Murphy said.
With respect to recent news that Secretary Kemp’s office mishandled private voter information, Murphy said, “The people of Georgia deserve to know that any eligible voter has fair and equitable access to the process and that the Secretary of State will secure their private information and handle it with the respect voters deserve. If the people in office can’t handle these basic duties of the office, they should allow others who can to take their place.”
“The legal notification to Secretary Kemp is part of our ongoing post-Shelby administration monitoring across Georgia,” Johnson said. “This case illustrates why the NAACP will mortgage every asset we have to defend the unfettered access to the ballot. It was paid for with the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors – voting is sacred.”
The Georgia Secretary of State has 90 days to remedy the practice; otherwise the law firm of Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore will file suit for declaratory and injunctive relief. A copy of the notice letter can be found here.