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Election observers looking out for problems in Georgia

Georgia’s high-profile election on Tuesday will be closely watched — not just to see who wins, but to ensure that voters’ rights are protected and their ballots are counted.

Election observers from several nonprofits are fanning out across the state to assist voters and report problems with long lines, voter registration and the state’s 16-year-old electronic voting machines.

Well over 1 million voters are expected to cast ballots at their local precincts on Election Day, building on the 2.1 million voters who already participated in early voting over the past three weeks — a record number for a midterm election year. Voters are motivated to decide the race at the top of the ballot for governor between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp.

Voters should be prepared by checking their registration information online at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov, verifying their precinct locations and bringing photo ID to the polls, according to organizations promoting voting rights.

Hundreds of poll monitors will mobilize both in metro Atlanta and rural areas to provide information, help protect voting rights and get help to resolve any obstacles to voting.

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Sara Henderson, the executive director for Common Cause Georgia, said she’s concerned that voters could find problems with their registration information, inhibiting their ability to vote. The registrations of more than 1.4 million inactive and ineligible voters have been canceled in Georgia since 2012, and an additional 47,000 registration applications are on hold because they couldn’t be verified with government records.

“There’s so much confusion. This is probably one of the more intense years we’ve seen with these problems,” Henderson said. “We saw a huge need. We’ll be a resource for voters to look up their registrations or if they have ID issues.”

Common Cause is deploying more than 500 trained poll monitors to 51 counties in Georgia.

Voters shouldn’t leave their precincts until they cast a ballot, said Andrea Young, the executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. Voters can insist on using a provisional ballot if their registration information is in doubt, but voters need to verify their registration information within three days to have their provisional ballot counted.

Georgians shouldn’t be discouraged if they’re concerned about their eligibility to vote, she said.

“The only way to work through this process is for eligible registered voters to come out and cast their ballots and make their voices heard,” Young said.

The League of Women Voters of Georgia is also deploying volunteers to help voters who encounter any obstacles, said the group’s president, Tracy Adkison. Voters should double-check their precinct locations to make sure they haven’t changed since the last election because 214 precincts have closed over the past six years.

“This is an election of our lifetime,” Adkison said. “We want to make sure that everyone who shows up to vote gets that opportunity to vote.”

The Democratic Party of Georgia is also sending many poll watchers across Georgia, and the party is receiving hundreds of calls daily from voters who have questions about their rights and registration information, spokesman Seth Bringman said. The Democratic Party is also offering rides to the polls on Election Day.

The Georgia Republican Party and the Kemp campaign didn’t return emails seeking comment Monday on their election monitoring efforts.

The federal government is also sending election watchers to Georgia to ensure compliance with voting rights laws.

The Justice Department announced Monday that staff will be located in Fulton and Gwinnett counties in Georgia, along with 18 other states. Members of the government’s Civil Rights Division will gather information on voting problems based on race, language and disability, according to a press release.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said that isn’t enough because voters need to also be protected from “suppression and last-minute intimidation.”

“The silence form this Justice Department in the face of the significant threats and obstacles that minority voters have faced has been deafening,” said Kristen Clarke, the Washington-based organization’s executive director. “In abandoning this work, they have left minority voters increasingly vulnerable.”

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