Arguments in federal court continue this week on whether Georgia’s secretary of state’s office, the defendant in a lawsuit, illegally purged an estimated 198,000 Georgia residents from the state’s voting rolls.
U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones has promised a ruling in short order on whether those eligible voters could be restored to the rolls in time to participate in the Jan. 5 runoff elections for Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats.
“The urgency is there is an election and these people should be allowed to vote,” said CK Hoffler, board chair of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, CEO of the CK Hoffler Firm and president of the National Bar Association.
Rainbow PUSH Coalition is a plaintiff, as are the Black Voters Matter’s Fund, Transformative Justice Coalition, and the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project.
The deadline for registering to vote in the January election was Dec. 7, but reinstatement on the rolls conveys the right to vote.
On Sept. 1, the ACLU issued a report by journalist Greg Palast and The Palast Investigative Fund on the purge and brought that report to the attention of the secretary of state’s office. Once served notice, Georgia had 90 days to take action to investigate, remedy, or respond to the allegation before a lawsuit could be filed.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office “did nothing,” Palast said. On day 91, Dec. 2, the plaintiffs filed the suit, contending that purges occurred in the runups to the 2018 and 2020 elections.
The lawsuit argues the purge was illegal under the National Voter Registration Act, because, for one, Raffensperger’s office used an unqualified vendor rather than one approved by the U.S. Postal Service which maintains the National Change of Address data set, NCOALink.
The Palast investigative team found that “When a USPS full-service licensee was used to check these same names, more than half of the 108,306 Georgians removed from the rolls by this flawed process, or fully 68,930 Georgia voters were found not to have filed NCOA notices and … still have mailable addresses from where they initially registered.”
The lawsuit also challenges the constitutionality Georgia’s “use it or lose it law” which was in effect at the time of the purge. The suit states, “Under ‘use it or lose it’ law … the Secretary of State presumes people have moved if they have had (a) no contact with any election official for three years, (b) failed to return a confirmation postcard, and (c) then failed to vote in the next two federal elections, justifying their purge from the rolls. According to the experts in list hygiene, however, fully 79,193 of the 120,561 voters whose registrations were canceled in 2019 continued to have a verified address to receive mail at their original address of registration.”
Thus, from the figures provided by the secretary of state’s office, “Plaintiffs allege that 199,908 wrongfully lost their right to vote based on an incorrect assumption that they had changed their residence.”
Though some purged voters have moved outside the state and some have died, the remaining majority are likely to be predominantly Latino and African American. The latter tend to vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. Exit polls showed Latinos in Georgia favoring Biden over Trump, but by narrower margins than African Americans and by even smaller percentages for Democratic candidates over Republicans in down-ballot races.
Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats will determine which party controls the Senate in President-elect Biden’s first term. Republicans hold a 52 to 48 margin. Should both of their candidates lose, the balance would shift to 50-50, with Democratic Vice President-elect Kamala Harris wielding the tie-breaking vote. But, as the vice president only votes in the Senate when there is a tie, Republicans will still have a 51-49 edge should only one of their candidates win.
“No one expected a runoff election,” Palast said. He conjectured that the secretary of state’s office decided, from Sept. 1, to run out the clock on the 90-day period to respond, thinking that a definitive election victory in November would move the lawsuit to the backburner of consideration.
Palast also noted that Georgia had legally purged 125,000 voters. “Many of these moved in Atlanta, but failed to re-register when they moved across a county line.”
Hollywood celebrities have been engaged to encourage Georgia residents to check their voter registration status.
The image of actress Rosario Dawson with that message now looms over downtown Atlanta on a 20-by-60-foot electronic billboard. She is also featured in a public service message while Zoe Saldana has ones circulating in Spanish.
Leonard DiCaprio has tweeted about the purge. “Live in #Georgia? Go to http://SaveMyVote2020.org to see if you have been removed from the electoral roll.”
Star power aside, Palast has a message of personal responsibility for Georgia residents and those in other states. “We have great lawyers, but you need to take care of your own vote.”