Faced with thousands of challenges to voters’ eligibility by Republican activists, election officials in Fulton County sought answers.
Were there really so many voters with nonexistent addresses, business addresses and duplicate registrations?
So far, the answer is “no,” according to preliminary findings presented to the county election board Thursday.
The county’s review of questionable voter registrations validated the vast majority of their addresses, confirming that these voters are authentic. Election officials mailed notices to the remaining voters whose addresses couldn’t be verified, starting a process that could lead to either corrections or eventual removal from the voter rolls.
Many of the questioned addresses turned out to be college dormitories, recently built apartments and mixed-use developments.
No illegal voting has been discovered, Fulton Elections Director Nadine Williams said. All voters are required to show ID before they can cast a ballot in Georgia.
“We had a few people making derogatory statements that Fulton County isn’t maintaining its voter rolls, which isn’t correct,” Williams said. “To stop that misinformation, we’re proactively doing a double-check. We’re confident our voter rolls are well-maintained.”
The county’s conclusion came a day after the Fulton County Commission voted down the Republican Party nomination of Jason Frazier to Fulton’s election board following his challenges to the registrations of nearly 10,000 voters since last year.
Allegations of bloated voter rolls and ineligible voters became a pressing issue among Republican election critics in the wake of Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election, especially in heavily Democratic areas such as Fulton County, the home of the city of Atlanta. Since then, they’ve filed challenges to tens of thousands of voters’ eligibility, in some cases forcing legitimate voters to defend their right to vote.
The county hired a mapping company, Blue Raster, earlier this year to identify business addresses, unmapped addresses and addresses that couldn’t be verified. Then election officials investigated those addresses to find out whether they were valid. Voters are required by law to be registered where they live.
Of 12,400 voter registrations initially identified with business addresses, 83% of them were found to be valid residential addresses. A similar rate of 13,000 more voter addresses that were initially unverified were later confirmed as well.
The county is still investigating 566 allegedly duplicate voter registrations and 953 voters who didn’t provide a valid street address when they registered to vote, according to a voter list maintenance report. In addition, 20,000 registrations with unverified or unmapped addresses remain to be checked.
In the case of voters who faced challenges from Frazier because their addresses were incorrectly listed with double street names, such as “drive drive” or “street street,” election officials corrected all those listings.
Another example cited by Frazier pointed to a run-down Westside Atlanta house where 20 people had registered to vote. Williams said none of them had ever cast a ballot, and her staff is researching their registrations.
Fulton County Commissioner Bridget Thorne, who has advocated for cleaner voter lists, said she’s happy that the county is finally doing something to address skeptical residents’ concerns.
“Hopefully we’ll get through this painful experience of doing a big cleaning, a big sweep, and then from here on out there will be ongoing maintenance and very few challenges and cleaner rolls,” Thorne said. “It’s going to restore trust in elections.”
Ultimately, more accurate voter registration lists should save taxpayers’ money because the government will be able to better budget for voting equipment, precinct locations and staffing, Thorne said.
Fulton’s scrutiny of its voter registration list, with a total of 863,000 voters, aims to update registrations more quickly than the usual time it takes to remove a voter who might have moved away.
Normally, voters are designated as “inactive” after five years without casting a ballot or contacting their local elections office, according to Georgia law. Then their registrations are canceled if they miss the next two general elections, meaning it can take a total of seven or more years to cancel an outdated registration.
The cancellation process goes more quickly when Georgia election officials receive information that a voter has moved to a different state through a 25-state information exchange called the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC. Eight Republican-led states have recently withdrawn from ERIC, but Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, also a Republican, has affirmed his commitment to the voter accuracy organization.
Under Georgia’s 2021 voting law, voters such as Frazier are allowed to challenge the voting eligibility of an unlimited number of voters. Then election officials have to decide whether to uphold or deny those challenges.
“Having individuals challenge mass numbers of voters is not the way to go about cleaning up lists, and it is not the way for anyone to create community unity around safe and secure elections,” Fulton Elections Board Chairwoman Cathy Woolard said.
Fulton election officials plan to complete their review of questionable voter records by next month.
Afterward, new Fulton voter registrations that attempt to use ineligible addresses will be flagged in the state’s recently upgraded registration system, Williams said.