Senator assails effort to purge Fulton voters

Prompted by a state-level investigation, Fulton County has found more than 1,200 registered voters whose addresses may be vacant lots, according to its elections department.

The department has not said how many of those people, if any, could have voted illegally in recent elections. Also uncertain is whether the Board of Registration and Elections will purge them from the rolls.

At issue is protecting the integrity of elections, weighed against fears of possibly disenfranchising low-income, minority voters.

State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, has cried foul, citing the county's embarrassment when it sent letters to residents of a senior high-rise earlier this month telling them that their building doesn't exist and that, to prove otherwise, they needed to show up for a hearing. Elections Director Sam Westmoreland apologized, but Fort said the error proves his process is flawed.

Fort appealed directly to county commissioners on Wednesday, asking them to look into what their elections office is doing.

Westmoreland said in an interview earlier this week that 2,400 letters went to addresses that matched demolition records, and about half garnered responses, showing the voters lived where they claimed. A statement issued by the elections department said it was acting on a request from the Georgia Secretary of State's office.

The Atrium at College Town was flagged, but according the statement, it turned out the senior apartment building has the same address on Joseph Lowery Blvd. as a building that had been razed. Fort disputes that, since the Atlanta Housing Authority-owned building has stood for decades, but was renovated and renamed several years ago.

Westmoreland could not be reached by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to respond to Fort's claims.. The Secretary of State's Office would not comment, spokesman Jared Thomas said, citing an ongoing investigation.

In the statement, Westmoreland said he could “correct the rolls” with the new data. A motion to do so, however, failed at the last elections board meeting.

Fort likened the effort to Republicans pushing the state's voter ID law during the last decade.

"They're in search of a solution where there's been no problem," he told the AJC. "[Westmoreland] cannot be an avenging angel going after other people's voting rights."

Sending official notices by regular mail isn't a perfect method for reaching people, as Fulton learned recently in its efforts to track down jury duty no-shows, many of whom turned out to have moved from the addresses where their summonses were sent. Fort said many of those 1,200 people could be legitimate Fulton voters.

Several county commissioners were sympathetic.

"In this election," Commissioner Bill Edwards said, "trust nobody."