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Georgia settles federal lawsuit alleging it blocked thousands of minority voters

Georgia has settled a federal lawsuit that accused Secretary of State Brian Kemp of disenfranchising minority voters because of a requirement on registration forms that critics said blocked thousands of them from voter rolls.

The state will no longer reject applications that don’t exactly match identification information in state and federal databases as part of the agreement, which was finalized late Thursday.

“Based on the advice of the Attorney General’s office and in order to avoid the expense of further litigation, we agreed to settle this lawsuit,” said Candice Broce, Kemp’s spokeswoman. “The verification system Georgia had in place is important to accurately maintain our voter rolls and prevent illegal votes from being cast in our state’s elections.” 

The state had previously agreed to suspend the requirement.

Advocacy groups filed the suit in September, alleging that black, Latino and Asian-American applicants were far more likely than whites to be rejected due to mismatches with state and federal databases, disproportionately affecting minority voters across the state and violating the federal Voting Rights Act.

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Georgia NAACP and more than a dozen other civil rights and clergy members hand-delivered a letter of protest after Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp alleged possible fraud by a Democratic-backed voter registration group.

In all, the state denied 34,874 registration applications from 2013 to 2016 due to mismatched information. Of those, black applicants were eight times more likely to fail the state’s verification process than white applicants, and Latinos and Asian-Americans were six times more likely to fail, according to the suit. 

The accusations in the lawsuit had been strongly denied by Kemp, who traveled the state to tout the accessibility of Georgia’s elections ahead of last year’s presidential election. 

The verification process Georgia had used was cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2010.

The Georgia NAACP, the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda and the legal nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta brought the lawsuit, aided by national voting advocacy groups.

"This victory ensures that tens of thousands of voters will not be disenfranchised by Georgia’s 'no match, no vote' policy, which unnecessarily denied people the opportunity to register to vote," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

"We will continue to fight ongoing voting discrimination and barriers to the franchise like the policy that has been maintained by the Georgia Secretary of State," Clarke said. "Now is the time to focus on policies that can help make voting easier in Georgia and across the nation.

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