PolitiFact: Group used wrong numbers to rip Ga. county’s voter rolls

An Indianapolis-based advocacy group issued a news release Sept. 25 with a stunning headline: “24 states show corrupted voter rolls.”

The Public Interest Legal Foundation, which aims to keep voter rolls as up-to-date as possible, had sent letters to nearly 250 counties. Bryan County, Georgia, was among them.

The group’s letter to county elections supervisor Cindy Reynolds said the county had “significantly more voters on the registration roles than it has eligible, living citizen voters.”

In this fact-check, we looked at whether Bryan County’s voter rolls are corrupted, as the news release charged.

The short answer is that the situation in Bryan County is cleaner than the foundation would have us believe. Maintaining the voter rolls in Georgia is an ongoing process, and the foundation counted names on the Bryan County list that were flagged for possible removal.

Foundation spokesman Logan Churchwell told us that his group relied on the latest federal survey from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. That spreadsheet showed 20,285 active voters and 5,622 inactive ones in Bryan County on the rolls for the November 2016 election.

What are inactive voters? People who haven’t voted in the past two elections, have been sent a letter to confirm their registration and haven’t responded to that letter.

The foundation added the two groups and reported a total of 25,907 voters. It then compared that to the number of county residents age 18 and older. Using the latest Census figures, that was 25,643.

Not all of them would necessarily be eligible to vote, but “that gives the county the maximum benefit of the doubt,” Churchwell said.

Because it saw 264 more names on the rolls than the total of potentially eligible voters, the foundation included Bryan County on its list of those with corrupted voter rolls.

Including the inactive voters is essential to that finding. The problem evaporates based on active voters. Judged against that, there are 5,358 fewer names on the rolls than the total potentially eligible population.

Churchwell defended his group’s methods, saying “all a person on the inactive list needs to do is respond and, like that, they are back on the rolls.” The county can’t “pretend they aren’t there,” he added.

The relationship between voter rolls and residents is constantly in flux. Many people move away and some die, the two biggest factors. The same survey the foundation used gives a glimpse into how election officials try to keep up.

It also shows what the size of the inactive list can tell us about changes in the active-voter rolls.

The foundation counted all inactive voters, but there’s good reason to question that.

In Georgia, the state, not the counties, maintains the voter rolls. Between 2014 and 2016, the state sent 4,323 letters asking people in Bryan County to confirm their voting status. In the same period the state removed 2,579 names. That alone would put the number of voters below those potentially eligible by about 1,200.

In fact, Bryan County election supervisor Reynolds said the state cut 2,934 names from the rolls as of September 2017. The state was more aggressive than it had been over the past two years.

“This is a regular process by the Secretary of State provided by Georgia laws to ensure that our rolls are as accurate as possible,” Reynolds said in a statement.

Churchwell told us that in 2015, his group targeted 141 counties. Of those, they brought legal action against eight, resulting in one settlement and two consent decrees to improve roll maintenance practices.

Our ruling

Based on all the data, there’s no evidence that the Bryan County rolls are corrupted. The foundation used data selectively and ignored ongoing efforts to clean up the voter rolls to reach an exaggerated conclusion.

We rate this claim False.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.