In the state of Georgia, canvassers registered about 90,000 people who had never voted before, mostly minorities and young people, earlier this year. 50,000 of those did not end up on the voter rolls and the Republican secretary of state refused to even respond to inquires as to why. A lawsuit has been filed over it, of course.
Earlier this year, organizers fanned out across nearly every one of Georgia’s 159 counties and registered nearly 90 thousand people who have never voted in their lives, most of them people of color, many of them under 25 years old. But when the groups checked back in late August, comparing their registration database to the state’s public one, they noticed about 50,000 of the registrations had vanished, nearly all of them belonging to people of color in the Democratic-leaning regions around Atlanta, Savannah and Columbus.
Georgia’s state minority leader Stacy Abrams (D), whose group The New Georgia Project led the massive registration drive in March and April, told ThinkProgress what happened next was “deeply disturbing.”
“We asked the Secretary of State to meet with us. We wanted to understand if we were doing something wrong, or if there was another database we didn’t have access to. But he refused to meet with us,” she said.
Joined by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Georgia NAACP, the organizers asked twice more for a meeting about the missing registrations. When early voting began across the state and they still had not heard from the Secretary of State, the New Georgia Project took them to court. In arguments on Friday, Francys Johnson, president of the Georgia NAACP, asked Fulton County Superior Court Judge Christopher Brasher to compel the state to process every valid registration.“In 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, we were only able to know there were problems when it was too late, when people started showing up to the polls and they were not on the voter rolls, and folks were already disenfranchised,” Johnson explained to ThinkProgress over the phone. “We must catch that disenfranchisement before it takes place.”
Lawyers for Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp and three counties who are also the target of the suit countered that state law sets no deadlines for processing voter registrations, and emphasized that any voter unsure of their registration status can always cast a provisional ballot. Those who do so must return within three days to present additional documentation or otherwise cure any problem with the system. But the NAACP and New Georgia Project called this remedy “unacceptable.”
“I cannot tell you what little return we actually see in terms of provisional ballots,” Johnson said. “The election is decided the night of the election. It’s not really a ballot at all.”
The secretary of state’s office accused the group of turning in fraudulent registration forms, but they could only identify 25 of them. A rate of less than 1% is extraordinary in voter registration drives. And either way, it is the job of that office to go through every form — which the canvassers must turn in, even if obviously false — and put the valid ones on the voter rolls, something they have failed to do. This is genuine voter suppression.