Sharon Huff of Atlanta fills in a voter registration form at a desk that the group Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta set up in The Sweet Auburn Curb Market in August. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: Hyosub Shin
Photo: Hyosub Shin

Judge orders Georgia to release database records on voter registration

A federal judge has ordered Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp to release more detailed public records about why the state decides to reject applicants trying to register to vote, granting a temporary victory to voter advocates.

A spokeswoman for Kemp said he would comply with the order, which includes an Oct. 7 deadline to turn the records over to Project Vote, a Washington-based nonprofit active on voting and election administration issues.

“Although the litigation is ongoing,” Candice Broce said, “we will be working with Project Vote to produce documents that the court has deemed responsive to their requests.”

That includes copies of records for some applicants with rejected registration applications, letters sent to them about their status or requesting more information, and the dates for when voter status changes were made within Georgia’s statewide registration database.

In his ruling granting the preliminary injunction, U.S. District Judge William S. Duffey Jr. said the “threatened injury” over blocking the release of certain voter registration records in the database “outweighs the harm” to the state. Kemp’s office sought to dismiss the suit over potential privacy concerns, as well as worries that it would be too time-consuming and costly to do.

Duffey said the state did not have to release every record sought by Project Vote, but many of them are included in his order. The judge said he set his deadline with a nod toward getting the records out ahead of Georgia’s statewide Oct. 11 voter registration deadline.

Certain personal information, such as telephone and Social Security numbers, and birth dates, will be redacted under the ruling.

Michelle Kanter Cohen, the election counsel for Project Vote, said the group has pursued the records to ensure registration decisions were being made in the open. She said the group was entitled to the records under the federal National Voting Rights Act.

“I think this is a positive result for voters,” she said.

Project Vote has sought records since May 2014 to detail Georgia’s process for reviewing voter registration applications and the subsequent reasons why applications may be rejected. In the suit, it said it wanted to make sure Georgia is properly processing voter registration applications and that would-be voters were not being rejected due to clerical errors or inadequate “quality control procedures.”

The group alleges that Kemp responded with incomplete database records, despite back-and-forth negotiations over the past two years.

Kemp has said his office was cooperative and transparent with Project Vote over access to the records, and that his staff had acted in good faith ahead of a lawsuit that he called unnecessary and a waste of taxpayers’ dollars.

It is one of three lawsuits filed this year over the state’s handling of voter records ahead of the November election.

Groups including Project Vote sued the state last week accusing it of disenfranchising minorities because of its “strict matching” requirement that has blocked thousands from voter rolls. And in February, the Georgia NAACP and government watchdog group Common Cause sued over the state’s longtime practice of sending “confirmation of address” notices to voters who haven’t cast a ballot in three years and removing them from voter rolls if they do not respond.

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