Cobb loses 20,000 voters
The rate of voter registration cancellations in the metro area counties was slightly higher than in the rest of the state. About 4.2% of all registered voters in the four counties were canceled compared to 3.9% statewide.
Of those metro voters removed, more than half were canceled because voters submitted change of address forms, indicating they had moved and were no longer eligible to vote at their previous precincts. Voters were also removed because they hadn’t participated in elections since before 2012, or their elections mail was returned as undeliverable.
Around Georgia, counties with the largest percentage of their voters removed from the rolls were primarily located in South Georgia and had lower voting populations. Chattahoochee County, on the Alabama border, had the largest percentage of its registered voters removed. Chattahoochee lost 16% of its 3,610 registered voters.
New law warns voters
While every state is required by the state and federal government to maintain accurate voter lists, Georgia is one of a handful of states that regularly cancels registrations of voters for failing to cast a ballot for several years.
This year, voters at risk of having their registrations canceled were warned in advance, giving them time to take steps to avoid being dropped. Legislation passed and implemented in 2019 required the state to notify voters who were at risk of cancellation.
Notices were sent in November to voters who had either moved away or didn’t vote in the previous seven years.
The process went smoothly in part because of early publicity about the process and an online list with the names of all Georgians at risk of having their registrations canceled, said state Elections Director Chris Harvey.
“There was a clear effort to let people know about it and give them the opportunity to change the result if that’s what they were entitled to,” Harvey said. “All that stuff shows flexibility and interest in serving the public interest, and not just canceling a bunch of voters for the heck of it.”
So-called voter registration “purges” became a major issue in Georgia after the state canceled about 534,000 registrations in July 2017, the largest single removal of voters in U.S. history. The 2017 cancellation process covered a backlog of four years of inactive voters being removed from rolls, while the 2019 process covered only two years of removals.
Critics of the process argue that removing voters for failing to vote for several years could disenfranchise people whose voter information is otherwise accurate.
Supporters of the process say it’s a key tool in keeping Georgia’s voter list accurate and secure.
“I don’t have any concerns whatsoever,” said Lane Flynn, chairman of the DeKalb Republican Party. “We do have to comply with federal law in making sure our voter rolls are accurate.”
He said the process “has been fair, has been transparent, has been upheld by every court that had any occasion to look into it.”
Fair Fight Action, a voting rights group founded by allies of former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, sought to restore 98,000 registrations of voters who last cast a ballot before 2012. But a federal judge ruled against Fair Fight. The voting rights group now says it will ask legislators to change some aspects of the state's voter registration cancellation law.
State Rep. David Dreyer, an Atlanta Democrat and head of the Fulton House delegation, said the voter notification system is insufficient.
“People’s fundamental right to vote comes down to if they catch a postcard?” Dreyer said.
He said people who are poor and younger voters are disproportionally affected by removals because they are more likely to change addresses between elections.
“It’s not the state’s job to make voting harder for individuals,” Dreyer said.
Who was canceled?
A voter submitting a change of address form to the U.S. Post Office — indicating they had moved — was the top reason for registration cancellations in all four metro Atlanta counties. Cobb and Gwinnett had the largest percentage of voters removed due to a change of address form — 63% for Cobb and 58% for Gwinnett — while Fulton and DeKalb were closer to half, with 52% and 51%, respectively.
The second most common reason for removing voters from rolls was a failure to vote or otherwise contact local elections offices for more than seven years. This accounted for 45% of the cancellations in Fulton, 40% in Gwinnett, and 32% in Cobb and DeKalb.
The list of canceled voters showed that voters younger than the baby boomer generation were removed at a higher rate.
Boomers accounted for 25% of the voters registered in metro Atlanta and 24% of those canceled.
The generation that followed the boomers, Generation X represented 28% of those registered in the Atlanta area and 33% of those removed. Gen Xers were ages 39 to 54 in 2019.
Millennials represent 33% of the electorate in the metro area and 35% of those removed. Millennials were ages 23 to 38 in 2019.
A 2018 report from the Pew Research Center shows that while millennials are the second-largest generation eligible to vote, they vote at the lowest rate of any age group. But in the metro Atlanta area, millennials are registered in greater numbers than any other age group.
And while past voter cancellations in Georgia have resulted in a disproportionate number of black and Hispanic voters being removed from the rolls, the most recent cancellation in December didn’t show the same trend. When broken down by race, the voter cancellation rates in the four counties indicated white voters were removed from the rolls at a greater rate than they comprise on voting rolls.
Black voters make up 36% of the area’s registered voters and were 32% of those canceled.
Hispanic voters make up less than 4% of the area’s registered voters, and were 3% of those removed.
White voters make up the largest group of voters in the four counties at 41% of the rolls, but accounted for 46% of registration removals in the four counties.
The process of removing inactive voters is “completely blind” to race and other demographics, according to Harvey, the state’s elections director. The only variables are address changes and voting records.
Even if a voter’s registration is canceled, there is still time to re-register before the March 24 presidential primary. Georgia residents have until Feb. 24 to ensure their registration is active and up-to-date.
AJC newsroom data specialists Jennifer Peebles and Nick Thieme contributed to this story.
ARE YOU REGISTERED?
Voters can check online to see if their registration is active and their information current at https://www.mvp.sos.ga.gov/MVP/mvp.do. Enter your first initial, last name, county of residence and birthdate to access your voter page. There, you can change your voter information, get an absentee ballot application and find directions to your polling place.
If you are not registered, you can do so at https://registertovote.sos.ga.gov/. You must have your Georgia driver's license number or state identification card number.
WHY WERE VOTERS CANCELED?
In Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Cobb:
55% of cancelled voters had submitted a change of address form indicating they had moved
38.6% had not voted or otherwise had contact with their elections office since before 2012
6.4% had mail returned to an elections office when sent to the address on their voter registration