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Georgia to be sued for purging minority voters ahead of the midterm elections

Voting activists claim purged voters were not notified they were removed from the rolls.

Signs lead voters into the polling location at St. Martin In The Fields Episcopal Church for the special election of Georgia's 6th Congressional District on June 20, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
Signs lead voters into the polling location at St. Martin In The Fields Episcopal Church for the special election of Georgia's 6th Congressional District on June 20, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Voting activists have announced a lawsuit against Georgia Secretary of State and GOP gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp, alleging he used a racially-biased method to purge roughly 700,000 voters from the rolls ahead of the November election.

The lawsuit, which was announced on Tuesday, alleges that Kemp has not notified the affected voters — who represent roughly one in ten Georgians eligible to cast ballots — that they have been removed from the rolls over the last two years.

In additional to legal action, the activists plan to make the list of purged voters public so that individuals can check for their names and then re-register before the October 9 deadline.

Kemp’s office relies on the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, maintained by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), to maintain Georgia’s rolls. But the Crosscheck system is extremely flawed. One report found that when the program flags potential double-voters, or people registered to vote in more than one state, it identifies false positives more than 99 percent of the time. The National Voter Registration Act includes protections against types of voter roll maintenance programs that inadvertently remove properly registered voters.

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The groups filing the lawsuit include the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Rainbow/PUSH, Georgia Coalition for The Peoples Agenda, and the New Georgia Project. Investigative journalist Greg Palast is also named as a plaintiff, alleging the state has not responded to his requests to public information regarding the purges.

“What has taken place here in Georgia is an insult to all of the efforts and accomplishments that we have done throughout this country,” Charles Steele, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said in a press conference Tuesday, explaining the efforts African Americans in the South went through to secure the right to vote.

Kemp, who has refused to recuse himself from administering the upcoming election while he campaigns for governor, said in a statement that the threatened lawsuit “has no merit.”

“To be crystal clear, Georgia has never used data from the Crosscheck Program to conduct list maintenance in any capacity,” Kemp said in his statement, according to local reporters. “Zero voters have been removed from the rolls based on Crosscheck data in this state. Greg Palast is completely blind to this indisputable fact in his pursuit of a sensationalist headline. Real journalists have already reported that Georgia does not use this data for list maintenance. Frankly, Mr. Palast should be embarrassed, and any credibility that he had left is now completely destroyed.”

Palast and the voting groups said the Georgia lawsuit is just the first of 26 they plan to file across the country in states that use Kobach’s Crosscheck system.

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A July report from the Brennan Center for Justice found that states purged more than 16 million voters from the rolls between 2014 and 2016, with low-income and minority voters disproportionately affected. The increase in purged voters was most significant in parts of the country like Georgia with a history of racial discrimination that, until the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013, were required to seek pre-approval of changes to their voting laws from the Department of Justice.

Many of the states conducting illegal purges use the Crosscheck program, which has generated significant controversy in recent years. At least eight states have pulled out of the system because of its high margin of error.