March 19, 2019 - Atlanta - The precinct manager at Hamilton Mill Christian Church in Buford said the polling place had been getting a steady stream of about 40 voters per hour. The only item on the ballot was the MARTA referendum. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Georgia ranks high in voter cancellations and new registrations

Georgia both canceled more voter registrations and registered more new voters than most states before last year’s election, according to a recent federal report on elections.

The data were less clear-cut when it came to absentee ballot rejections, where Georgia ranked in the middle of the pack when compared to other states.

After an election-year filled with battles over voting rights and allegations of voter suppression, the report from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission shows how Georgia compares with the rest of the nation.

Election officials removed more than 797,000 voters from the rolls between 2016 and 2018, according to the Election Administration and Voting Survey 2018 Comprehensive Report. That amounts to 11% of the state’s registered voters, the eighth-highest rate in the nation.

Registrations were canceled because voters didn’t participate in elections for several years, died, moved out of state or were convicted of a felony.

At the same time, Georgia signed up more than 902,000 new voters, including 697,000 who were automatically registered when they got their driver’s licenses. The federal data support the findings of a study by the Brennan Center for Justice earlier this year, which estimated that 94% more voters registered in Georgia than if the state hadn’t implemented automatic voter registration in September 2016.

Those new registrations boosted the state’s total number of voters to a record high of more than 7 million. Georgia's voting rolls grew 14% since 2016, the nation's ninth-largest increase.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a former state lawmaker, said the report invalidates accusations that he and other Republican officials have been disenfranchising voters.

“Liberal activists have been desperately trying to advance a false narrative of pervasive voter suppression which, as the EAVS report confirms, has no basis in reality,” Raffensperger said in a statement.

Raffensperger’s critics say he has perpetuated barriers to voting such as registration cancellations, disqualified ballots and hackable voting machines.

“It’s no surprise that he would attempt to distract Georgians by bloviating about a report that shows our state lagging well behind the national average of critical measures,” said Seth Bringman, spokesman for Fair Fight Action, an organization founded by last year’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams that’s suing the state over voting problems.

The report also sheds light on rejections of absentee ballots, which local election officials discarded if they were received in the mail after Election Day or contained inaccurate or missing information, such as addresses and birth years.

Many absentee ballot rejections were concentrated in Gwinnett County, which imposed strict standards for accepting absentee ballots and accounted for 22% of the state’s total rejections.

Statewide, county election officials disqualified 7,500 absentee ballots out of nearly 4 million total votes cast last November, a rejection rate slightly below the national average. Among the 29 states that allow voters to submit absentee ballots for any reason, Georgia recorded the 12th-lowest rejection rate.

But when measured in another way, Georgia’s absentee ballot rejections compare less favorably with the rest of the country. Election officials discarded 3% of all absentee ballots returned by mail, the nation’s 11th-highest rejection rate. Still, that’s a lower rejection rate than in Georgia’s elections in 2016 and 2014, according to the EAC report.

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