Georgia will change policy after complaints over notice sent to voters

Voters turn out at the Roswell Branch Public Library in June to cast early ballots in the 6th Congressional District special election. (Photo by Phil Skinner)
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Voters turn out at the Roswell Branch Public Library in June to cast early ballots in the 6th Congressional District special election. (Photo by Phil Skinner)

After facing a legal backlash over sending address confirmation notices to tens of thousands of voters who had moved within the county they had already registered in, Georgia has quietly decided to reverse course.

State officials confirmed Friday to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Georgia will no longer give those voters a 30-day deadline to respond or be declared “inactive,” and it will immediately recognize as active nearly half of the 383,487 voters who received the notices last month as part of the state’s biennial effort to clean up its voting rolls.

“We reviewed the process and determined that these revisions would be in the best interest of all Georgia voters,” said Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office.

The notices are a central part of what's often referred to as voter registration list maintenance. They are used by states across the country to confirm whether a voter has moved outside a registrar's jurisdiction, and they are part of the effort to ensure states have accurate and current voter registration lists.

Every other year, Georgia uses information received from the U.S. Postal Service and compares the list of people who submitted a change of address form with the state’s overall list of registered voters.

It then creates a list of voters in each county of those who haven’t updated their registration record to reflect a new address. It also pre-prints mailers. Each county then pays for postage and sends those mailers to people on the list asking them to confirm their address or where they live now.

Voters who receive them are told they have 30 days to respond, either to confirm their address or to indicate their new one, and risk being moved to the state’s “inactive” registration list if they don’t. “Inactive” voters in Georgia are still legally registered to vote, have full access to the ballot and can vote as usual — and once “inactive” voters cast a ballot or make contact with local officials, they are moved back into “active” status.

The mailer is often a way to confirm whether people have moved outside their county, either to somewhere else in Georgia or to another state.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, however, sued Fulton County on behalf of one affected voter and threatened legal action against other counties and the state over the notices also being sent to residents who had moved within the same county they are already registered in.

Those voters, it said, should not face the possibility of being declared “inactive” because state law does not mandate such an action for that particular group of voters. The ACLU said it also goes beyond what’s federally allowed.

Instead, it said counties should have automatically updated the addresses of those voters and, if it wanted to verify the change, sent out a different notice allowing voters who moved “intra-county” to review the information without any consequences if they did not respond.

On Friday, Sean Young, the state ACLU’s legal director, cautiously acknowledged the state’s policy change but said he was waiting for more information from the Secretary of State’s Office, including “any written details about how they plan to undo their damage to Georgia’s electoral integrity.”

“What they appear to have proposed is merely the first step toward compliance,” Young said.

The overall deadline to respond to the notices that went out this year was Aug. 8. State officials said Friday, however, that all 159,930 voters who moved within their same county and received the notice will remain in active status whether or not they returned the confirmation card.

They also said that from now on, the state’s effort will distinguish between voters who move to a different county and voters who move within the same county.

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