Judge declines to dismiss DeKalb County voter purge lawsuit

DeKalb County Elections Board members Samuel Tillman and (from left) Anthony Lewis, elections director Erica Hamilton, and Baoky Vu at a November 2018 meeting. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
DeKalb County Elections Board members Samuel Tillman and (from left) Anthony Lewis, elections director Erica Hamilton, and Baoky Vu at a November 2018 meeting. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

A federal judge has declined to dismiss a lawsuit accusing DeKalb County officials of illegally removing dozens of voters from its rolls.

Judge Eleanor Ross denied this week the county’s motion to dismiss the suit, which was filed in February by lawyers representing the Georgia NAACP and the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda.

The lawsuit accuses the DeKalb County Board of Registration and Elections of “purging” more than 50 registered voters between December 2018 and November 2019, thanks in part to a policy that allows residents to challenge the registration of a voter if they believe they are no longer living at their registered address.

The suit claims that DeKalb violated the National Voting Rights Act by immediately removing voters because their residency was challenged and after a mailed notice was returned as undeliverable or not returned at all. It also mentions the cancellation of seven voters who used the address of a mental health center in Decatur when they registered to vote, claiming that county discriminated against voters residing in transitional housing or non-traditional residences.

Lawyers for the elections board and county elections supervisor Erica Hamilton had argued that the officials were immune from being sued. They also contended that the groups who filed the suit did not have standing to do so.

In a ruling issued Wednesday, Ross allowed the lawsuit to proceed.

Attorneys for the elections officials named in the suit now have two weeks to file an answer to the allegations.

“Today’s victory is important to ensuring that voters in DeKalb County, Georgia will be provided an equal opportunity to vote and that challenges to voter eligibility will be conducted pursuant to federal law,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a news release.

That group and lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project are representing the plaintiffs in the case.