More than 42,500 voter registration applications, the vast majority of which were for minorities, have been either suspended or rejected in the state of Georgia since July 2013 due to a strict law requiring names to be identical to a state database for driver’s licenses or Social Security, according to a lawsuit filed last week. Typos or slight variations in names, including misplaced hyphens or accent marks, are reasons to throw out a voter application in the state.
The policy violates the Voting Rights Act by “impos[ing] a substantial, unwarranted, and disproportionate burden on” minority applicants, according to the lawsuit.
The “notoriously unreliable” way of verifying information has had a disproportionate effect on minorities, the lawsuit states:
“Since July 2013, White applicants have submitted 47.2 percent of all voter registration applications in Georgia. White applicants, however, constitute only 13.6 percent of applicants who have been rejected as a result of the verification protocol during that period. By contrast, 63.6 percent of rejected applicants are Black, even though Black applicants submitted 29.4 percent of all applications during that period. Similarly, Latino applicants constitute 3.6 percent of total applicants and 7.9 percent of the rejected applicant pool during that period.”
Voting rights groups Georgia State Conference of the NAACP; Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, Inc.; and Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, Inc. are all named as plaintiffs on a lawsuit filed against Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp.
Requiring an exact match between two separate systems “is a notoriously unreliable method of verifications in the elections context,” the lawsuit states. And in many instances, the error is of no fault of the voter and could be the result of data entry errors, typos, illegible handwriting of elections officials or unexpected computer glitches.
“The Secretary of State’s exact-match program penalizes those seeking to register and vote because of errors contained in databases maintained by the state,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director for Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Discrepancies between married and maiden names matching driver’s licenses or Social Security numbers, compound last names, accent marks and reversed numbers or letters can all also flag an application and ultimately have it thrown out.
Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for Kemp, said the policy is lawful.
“The verification process Georgia currently uses was pre-cleared by the U.S. Justice Department in 2010,” Broce said. “This lawsuit is an effort by liberal groups to disrupt voter registration just weeks before November’s election.”
A 2008 version of the policy was rejected by the Justice Department, however, which said that the “flawed system frequently subjects a disproportionate number of African-American, Asian, and/or Hispanic voters to additional and, more importantly, erroneous burdens on the right to register to vote.” The Justice Department approved a modified version in 2010.
According to a letter included as evidence in the lawsuit, the state told the Justice Department that the policy was created in part “to prevent fraudulent or erroneous registrations.”
However, numerous studies have concluded that instances of alleged “voter fraud” are virtually nonexistent and are, more often than not, attributed to simple clerical errors.
“We know these tactics well,” said Francys Johnson, president of the Georgia NAACP. “They have one goal in mind, and that is to suppress the vote from folks whose values are progressive-leaning in this country.”
“This exact match program should be viewed alongside photo ID laws and burdensome documentary proof of citizenship requirements which are all, at the end of the day, efforts aimed at making access to the ballot box more difficult,” said Clarke.
Julie Houk, special senior counsel in the Voting Rights Project for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said, “The Secretary of State should be interested in making sure every eligible Georgian who wants to vote can vote and this process is preventing people from voting.”
The lawsuit seeks a temporary injunction to come up with a way for voters whose applications were rejected to still vote on Election Day.
A History of Racism in Georgia
The lawsuit describes a deeply rooted history of racism in the state as still having an effect on voting rights even today. Significant differences between different races when it comes to voter participation, education level, the likelihood to own a vehicle and socioeconomic status all play a role in voter turnout.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Georgia is 55.9 percent white, 30 percent Black, 8.8 percent Latino, 3.2 percent Asian, 2.1 percent two or more races and less than 1 percent both Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native.
Voter ID laws, which many courts across the country have recently ruled disproportionately impact minority voters, also play a large role in the current battle, according to the lawsuit:
“There is a history of state-based and other discrimination in Georgia that has resulted in a disparity in driver’s license and Georgia ID ownership rates between White and Black voters. During the pendency of the Georgia photo ID litigation, the Secretary of State’s office issued a press release reporting that a database match between the State’s file of registered voters and the DDS data file of persons issued valid Georgia driver’s licenses or Georgia ID cards revealed that 676,246 registered voters either had no record of a driver’s license or ID issued, or had their licenses revoked, suspended, cancelled, denied, or surrendered. While 27.8 percent of the voters on the registration list were Black, 35.6 percent of voters who lacked a driver’s license or Georgia ID card were Black.”