Georgia is using an error-riddled database to reject thousands of voter registrations

Poll worker Delores Peterson, left, hands a sticker to a voter after they cast their ballot in Georgia’s primary election at a polling site in Atlanta. CREDIT: AP Photo/David Goldman
Poll worker Delores Peterson, left, hands a sticker to a voter after they cast their ballot in Georgia’s primary election at a polling site in Atlanta. CREDIT: AP Photo/David Goldman

Tens of thousands of Georgia voters have had their registrations thrown out because of typos in the state’s databases or because their name in the databases may not exactly match the information on their registration form.

Voting advocates filed a lawsuit in federal court on Wednesday alleging that the state’s requirement that voter registration forms exactly match information in state databases violates the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Thousands of voters — disproportionately minorities — have had their registrations rejected because of discrepancies as small as an extra hyphen or accent mark, according to lawyers.

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“Would-be voters, including a disproportionate number of African Americans, Latinos, and Asian-American voters are denied the right to register and vote because many of the databases maintained by the state are riddled with errors,” Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said on a press call.

Clarke noted that Georgia has rejected or suspended five times more registration forms from black applications compared to their white counterparts. Michelle Cantor Cohen, election counsel with Project Vote, added that the exact match requirement is “not unlike a literacy test.”

The lawsuit names Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who has mandated the exact match policy, and demands that the state terminate the policy before the November election.

“We know these tactics well. They have one goal in mind, and that is to suppress the vote.”

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of challenges to election laws across the country that make it more difficult for minority voters to cast a ballot. After the U.S. Supreme Court gutted Section 5 of the VRA in 2013, many states across the south scrambled to write new laws with that intended effect.

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It’s unclear if Georgia’s exact match policy would be in place today if the entire VRA were still intact. Before the Supreme Court’s ruling, Georgia was required to pre-clear changes to its election laws with the U.S. Department of Justice. Although this exact match policy was approved by the federal government in 2010, the evidence that the policy disproportionately affects minority voters was not readily available at that time, according to attorneys.

“This is yet another example of ongoing efforts we’re seeing across the country to make registering to vote more difficult,” Clarke said.

Georgia currently has one of the strictest exact match policies in the country because other states have been required to loosen their requirements or give voters more time to fix problems and discrepancies, according to one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs.

But it’s far from the only state where voter registration has been an issue before the general election. Ohio elections officials are being scrutinized after they began purging voters’ registrations if they have skipped three or more federal elections. Illinois Republicans have sued to shut down same-day voter registration, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) recently vetoed legislation that would have made his state the sixth with automatic voter registration.

Georgia has also seen its fair share of voting issues. In 2012, a few months before the last presidential election, Secretary of State Kemp similarly purged thousands of voters from the rolls because of faulty data. And last year, the state’s director of elections resigned after her office mistakenly canceled the registrations of hundreds of thousands of voters.

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“We know these tactics well,” Francys Johnson, president of the Georgia NAACP, said on the press call Wednesday. “They have one goal in mind, and that is to suppress the vote from folks whose values are progressive-leaning in this country.”