A woman votes at the Buckhead Library in Atlanta, Georgia, on Monday, Oct. 26, 2017. Monday was the first day of early voting in Atlanta, where citizens cast their ballots for the upcoming mayoral election as well as other local elections. On the first day, turnout was sparse at several locations. (CASEY SYKES / CASEY.SYKES@AJC.COM)

‘Misleading’ Georgia voter registration forms will be changed

Georgia election officials have agreed to change voter registration forms in response to a complaint that they misrepresented ID requirements for first-time voters.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia sought the change because the registration form says new voters must provide documentation of their name and address with their mailed applications.

But federal election law only requires identification from first-time voters at some point before they cast a ballot, not at the time they register to vote.

“Election officials must protect — rather than undermine — our sacred, fundamental right to vote,” said Sean Young, the legal director for the ACLU of Georgia. “When election officials include false and misleading information on official voter registration forms, they undermine our democracy.”

A spokeswoman for Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp said Friday that the language on the form has been in place since 2004 and hasn’t prevented any voter from registering.

“The fact that the ACLU is issuing press releases and claiming a great victory for voting rights over something they have not cared about for 15 years and has not actually affected any Georgia voters demonstrates that no matter how hard they look, they cannot find any real problems,” spokeswoman Candice Broce said.

The Secretary of State’s Office is reviewing the language on the form but hasn’t yet decided how it will be clarified.

In the meantime, the current voter registration forms will continue to be provided to potential voters and accepted by the state.

The ACLU objected to the voter registration form in a Feb. 20 letter to Kemp. Just eight days later, the ACLU said Kemp consented to change what the organization called “an egregious error.”

The issue was brought to the ACLU’s attention by Marc Merlin, a Georgia resident who helps others register to vote.

The Georgia voter registration form includes a highlighted section in bold type saying it’s a requirement to submit a photo ID, copy of a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or other government document that shows name and address.

“This requirement is blatantly wrong. … Nothing in state or federal law requires first-time registrants by mail to provide documentary proof of name and address along with their voter registration application,” according to the ACLU’s letter to Kemp. “They do not have to provide that documentary proof of name and residence until the time that they actually vote for the first time in Georgia.”

Georgia's voter registration form currently includes a section that says it's a requirement for first-time voters to verify their name and address when they register. The form will be changed in response to a complaint from the ACLU that identifying information is only required before casting a ballot, not when registering.

The ACLU was also successful in another complaint against Kemp’s office last month.

settlement between the ACLU and the state requires that voters must be kept in active status even when they don’t confirm their addresses after moving to a new residence in the same county.

The ACLU had alleged in a lawsuit filed last year that the state wasn’t complying with laws requiring election officials to automatically update voters’ addresses.

“Picking Winners and Losers,” the Phrase of the Week by James Salzer. Video by Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

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