ACLU threatens to sue Fulton County, Georgia because of voter letters

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp was one of the recipients of a letter from the ACLU that said letters to update the voter rolls should not have been sent. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp was one of the recipients of a letter from the ACLU that said letters to update the voter rolls should not have been sent. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO

The ACLU of Georgia says a letter mailed to nearly 50,000 Fulton County voters, telling them they could be declared inactive because they filed change of address forms but didn't update their voter registration, is illegal.

The letter states that voters have 30 days to confirm their address on their registration record before being deemed inactive, meaning they could be removed in the future. ACLU of Georgia legal director Sean J. Young said the organization plans to sue if Fulton doesn't correct the issue.

The mailers referenced by the ACLU in its Tuesday letter specifically involve voters who have moved within Fulton County.

“You cannot say, ‘Do something in 30 days or something bad is going to happen to you,’” Young said. “This kind of nonsense is straight out of the voter suppression playbook.”

In a letter to the Secretary of State’s office and Fulton County, Young calls the mailing a “voter purge,” something Fulton Director of Elections and Registration Richard Barron said proves the ACLU simply doesn’t understand the process to check where voters live.

The mailing, Barron said, is sent every two years to voters who have submitted a change of address to the postal service, had county mail returned as undeliverable or has not voted within the past three years.

Under state law, registered voters who do not respond to address confirmation notices within 30 days are designated as inactive — something that does not prevent them from voting and does not change their registration status.

If voters then remain inactive for two federal election cycles, meaning they have not voted or had contact with election officials for at least an additional four years, they are removed from voting rolls. This would include voters who have moved to another state or who have died.

Residents who received the notice in error can send back the attached card and remain on the active voter rolls.

It’s “a lie” to say that voters receiving the mailer will be purged, Barron said.

“There’s no grand conspiracy here,” he said. “It’s not a purge. It’s ignorance that the ACLU doesn’t know what this letter is.”

Federal and state law require regular maintenance of the voter rolls and such confirmation notices have been allowed since at least 2010 under state law, said Candice Broce, a spokesperson for Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp. The maintenance ensures records are accurate and lets the state “preserve the integrity of our electoral system,” Broce wrote in a statement.

"This is not the first time that our processes have been challenged, and I doubt that it will be the last. But it is our duty to keep the voter rolls up-to-date, and we will vigorously defend this duty in the face of opposition," Broce said.

The ACLU’s letter follows a tweet from Stacey Hopkins, a Fulton resident who said she received the mailer but could not get an answer from the county about why she had received it. Barron said Hopkins had moved in May 2016, changing her address, which necessitated the mailer.

Three voter advocacy organizations — the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP and Asia-Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta — are supporting the ACLU’s position and say the notices may violate federal law and the National Voter Registration Act, a charge Broce denied.

Young called the mailers intimidating and confusing. For residents who moved within a county, he said, the county should simply update its voter rolls with the new addresses, then send letters asking residents to correct any errors.

The Voter Registration Act “has very strict requirements about what they cannot do,” he said.

“They need to fix this, or they’re going to be sued,” Young said.

Staff writer Kristina Torres contributed to this story.