A Gwinnett County poll worker hands a voter a sticker after casting a ballot in March at the Mountain Park Aquatic Center and Activity Building in Lilburn during the Gwinnett County MARTA referendum special election. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Georgia purge list scrutinized for voter registration removals

As Georgia election officials prepare to erase 313,243 registrations, several groups say they’re concerned that legitimate voters will be swept up in the purge.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia identified 70 people Monday who it says voted in November 2018 but are targeted for cancellation.

The ACLU based its findings on voting records from a month after the 2018 election, but a more recent state voting list obtained last month by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows that no voters who have cast ballots since September 2016 will be canceled.

“The voter registration of one Georgia citizen canceled in error is one citizen too many,” said Andrea Young, the executive director for the ACLU of Georgia. “We call on the secretary of state to stop removing citizens from the voter rolls and focus on serving the citizens of Georgia by ensuring access to the ballot and free and fair elections.”

The vast majority of people whose registrations could be canceled — 62% — moved away, according to a list made public last week by the secretary of state’s office. Either they filed change-of-address forms showing they moved to a different county or state, or their mail from election officials was returned as undeliverable.

The remaining 120,561 registrations set for cancellation are matched to voters who haven’t cast a ballot since spring 2012 or before, according to the state’s list. Voter registrations can be canceled after three years of inactivity followed by no contact with election officials during the next two general elections.

Election officials believe most of those being canceled for no contact with election officials have moved out of state, said Walter Jones, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office.

Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said the cancellation list was posted online last week so it can be reviewed by the public for potential issues.

“If there is data they think needs to be updated, we encourage people to bring it to our attention so we can review their findings and make adjustments as needed,” Fuchs said Monday. “Posting it online also allows people on the list to update their voter registration.”

Voters will be mailed cancellation notices this week, and if they sign and return postage-paid postcards within 30 days, their registrations won’t be removed from the rolls. Voters can also re-register or change their addresses on the secretary of state’s website, or they can participate in Tuesday’s election.

Unlike in Ohio, where the state inaccurately targeted 40,000 people for cancellation this fall, there aren’t many obvious errors in Georgia’s cancellation list, according to an AJC analysis.

Many of the 70 people identified by the ACLU as questionable cancellations appear to have moved away. They filed change-of-address forms, their mail was undeliverable or property records show their homes have been sold.

Some of those who haven’t participated in recent elections told Channel 2 Action News that they have no intention of voting and don’t care that they’re being removed from the state’s voter rolls.

The cancellation list also doesn’t show racial disparities, according to the AJC’s analysis. Voting rights groups say minorities are often disenfranchised by voting restrictions.

Among those who identified their race to state election officials, 31% of those whose registrations could be canceled are black, while 33% of all registered voters are black. About 63% of the cancellation list is made up of white voters, who account for 59% of all registered voters.

Still, it’s possible that Georgia’s cancellation list contains mistakes, as Ohio’s did, said Jen Miller, the executive director for the League of Women Voters of Ohio.

“Voter registration databases are prone to human error, so we should double-check that list just like we have someone proofread important correspondence,” Miller said. “We need to be doing everything we can to protect otherwise eligible voters from being removed.”

The list contains some apparent mistakes in birth years, with two voters listed as having been born in 1886 instead of 1986, which would make them about 133 years old — the oldest people in the world. Both of them could be removed from the voter rolls because they haven’t voted since November 2010.

Even if the cancellation list were accurate, Georgians shouldn’t lose their voting rights as a punishment for nonparticipation in elections, said Sara Tindall Ghazal of the Democratic Party of Georgia.

“Stripping an individual’s right to vote simply because they choose not to exercise it is anti-democratic,” Ghazall said.

Voters can check and update their voter registration status online at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov.

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