People cast their vote during Saturday early voting for Georgia’s May primary at the C.T. Martin Natatorium and Recreation Center in Atlanta. (REANN HUBER/REANN.HUBER@AJC.COM)

Lawsuit challenges 53,000 stalled Georgia voter registrations

A federal lawsuit filed Thursday challenges a Georgia law that has stalled the voter registrations of more than 53,000 potential voters until they verify their basic information.

The lawsuit, brought by several civil rights groups, asks a judge to overturn Georgia’s “exact match” law, which requires voter registration information to match driver’s licenses, state ID cards or Social Security records.

The legal action comes after The Associated Press reported this week that at least 53,000 voter registrations were flagged because of the law. Those voter registrations are on hold because of discrepancies between application information and government records, such as a missing hyphen in a last name or data entry errors.

But potential voters can still participate in this year’s elections if they show photo ID either when they go to vote or beforehand. They can also mail identification to county election officials in advance. If their ID resolves the discrepancy, they will immediately become active voters eligible to cast a normal ballot on Georgia’s voting machines.

Voters cast their ballots in the primary election at Henry W. Grady High School in Atlanta in May. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The “exact match” law has drawn criticism from voting rights groups that say it could suppress voters in the upcoming election for Georgia governor between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams. Kemp is Georgia’s secretary of state, responsible for oversight of elections and voter registration.

The lawsuit alleges that the law, passed by the Georgia General Assembly last year, has a disproportionate impact on African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans who want to become registered voters. About 80 percent of applications put on pending status were submitted by those minority groups, according to the lawsuit.

“It imposes unnecessary and discriminatory burdens on the voter registration process,” according to the lawsuit, filed by the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law, which is representing several civil rights organizations in the legal action.

Part of the reason many of the pending applications are from minorities is that they were submitted by the New Georgia Project, said Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. The New Georgia Project, founded by Abrams in 2013, specifically sought to register minorities.

Broce called the lawsuit a publicity stunt that will waste taxpayer money when the state defends the law in court.

“Their claims are completely bogus,” Broce said. “The so-called ‘exact match’ law was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. (Nathan) Deal. It mirrors a Florida law recently upheld in federal court. The 53,000 Georgians cited in the complaint can vote in the Nov. 6 election. Any claims to the contrary are politically motivated and utterly false.”

Abrams’ campaign said Wednesday that Kemp is attacking voting rights.

“As he has done for years, Brian Kemp is maliciously wielding the power of his office to suppress the vote for political gain and silence the voices of thousands of eligible voters — the majority of them people of color,” Abrams spokeswoman Abigail Collazo said. “This isn’t incompetence; it’s malpractice.”

Kemp has said that the state’s record number of registered voters show that he’s focused on ensuring secure, accessible and fair elections.

More than 6.9 million voters are now registered in Georgia, including a sharp increase in new voters, with 253,902 people signing up since April. The deadline to register to vote in Georgia was Tuesday.

“Not a single voter whose status is pending for failure to verify will get rejected this election cycle,” Kemp said in a statement in August. “Despite any claim to the contrary, it has never been easier to register to vote in Georgia and actively engage in the electoral process.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, the NAACP of Georgia, the New Georgia Project, the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials and ProGeorgia.

Georgia’s “exact match” law was passed by the General Assembly last year and implemented in February of this year.

One voter, Marsha Appling-Nunez, said she found out she was no longer registered when she tried to check the state’s election website. The AP found her name among the voters placed on pending status.

“I was kind of shocked,” said Appling-Nunez, a college teacher who had tried to re-register after moving from one Atlanta suburb to another. “I’ve always voted. I try to not miss any elections, including local ones.”

Georgia residents can check their registration status online on the state’s My Voter Page at Voters whose registrations are on hold will receive a message that they need to notify their county election office to verify their information.

Voters concerned about their registrations shouldn’t be deterred, said Sean Young, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.

“Though the ACLU of Georgia strongly opposes the discriminatory ‘exact match’ law passed by Georgia politicians, we must focus on ensuring that all registered voters come out to vote,” Young said. “All voters who have pending registration applications can still cast a regular ballot by presenting photo identification.”

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