Mass Georgia voter challenges thrown out in Gwinnett

Challengers targeted 22,000 voter registrations
Gwinnett Election Board Chairwoman Alice O'Lenick debates board member Stephen Day during a meeting on challenges to voter eligibility on Monday. The board voted 3-2 to dismiss the challenges. Credit: Gwinnett County livestream

Credit: Gwinnett County

Credit: Gwinnett County

Gwinnett Election Board Chairwoman Alice O'Lenick debates board member Stephen Day during a meeting on challenges to voter eligibility on Monday. The board voted 3-2 to dismiss the challenges. Credit: Gwinnett County livestream

The Gwinnett County Board of Elections voted Monday night to dismiss all remaining challenges to voter eligibility that had been filed by conservative residents who alleged 22,000 voter registration records were invalid.

The board’s 3-2 vote found that there wasn’t probable cause to move forward with the voter challenges because they were primarily based on records of voters’ mailing addresses rather than more specific allegations that they were no longer eligible to vote in Georgia.

The challenges were an effort to disqualify registrations from this fall’s election based on the belief that voters had likely moved out of state. They were filed last month by Gwinnett residents and VoterGA, an advocacy organization that claims the 2020 election — including President Donald Trump’s defeat at the polls — was fraudulent.

Election board member Wandy Taylor said the challenges threatened individuals’ ability to vote without concrete evidence that they had moved away.

“They’re challenging a person’s right to vote, and that’s the part I’m concerned with, that we are potentially impeding or we are obstructing people,” said Taylor, a Democratic Party board member. “We’re making this pre-judgment that somebody, because they have an address change, is up to something erroneous.”

The vote split along party lines among Democratic and Republican appointees, with a nonpartisan board member appointed by the other four siding with the Democrats.

Board Chairwoman Alice O’Lenick said challenged voters who are still Georgia residents would have been able to vote after providing documentation at polling places. Georgia already requires ID before casting a ballot.

“All we’re doing is saying to them, ‘We would like you to vote, we want you to vote, but we just have conflicting information and we need that information to be updated,’” said O’Lenick, a Republican Party board member. “The voters themselves have the responsibility to update their information.”

The 22,000 challenges were already whittled down before Monday’s elections board meeting.

Over 2,000 of those contested voter registrations had already been canceled since last year, and 5,700 registrations are already in the multiyear process of losing their registrations for inactivity. Many other challenges covered missing or nonexistent addresses, some of which were found to be apartment numbers, transposed numbers or data entry errors. Thousands of challenges were withdrawn by the complainants.

The board’s vote on Monday dismissed the remaining voter challenges.

Under Georgia’s elections law passed last year, Senate Bill 202, any Georgia voter is allowed to file challenges against an unlimited number of other voters.

The Republican-majority Georgia General Assembly approved the law after Trump alleged widespread fraud that was never found. Three vote counts, multiple investigations and various court cases upheld Democrat Joe Biden’s 12,000-vote win in Georgia over Trump, a Republican.

While the law allows voters to bring multiple challenges, a complicated set of federal and state laws includes protections for voter registrations.

Federal law prohibits “systemic” registration cancellations within 90 days of an election, requiring a case-by-case examination of voter challenges.

Georgia law calls for registration removals after voters decline to participate in elections for five years and then skip the next two general elections. The state canceled a record 534,000 registrations in 2017, but increasingly accurate voter rolls reduced the number of biennial removals to 101,000 last year.

“The casual application of a voter challenge places a substantial burden on legitimate voters, poll workers, election staff and polling place voters waiting in line,” said Stephen Day, a Democratic board member. “These challenges before us are replete with errors, inaccuracies and inaccurate assertions,”

Voter challenges have been filed in multiple counties across Georgia, with mixed results depending on the jurisdiction and the information provided by the complainants. They use information including change-of-address records, voter registration lists and property tax documents.

They say they’re not trying to disenfranchise anyone, but they want to prevent the possibility of fraud by someone who isn’t eligible to vote in a district or state where they no longer live.

“The danger is, if you have invalid voter roll entries, they can be used to stuff counterfeit ballots into the results,” said Garland Favorito, founder of the group VoterGA that supported the challenges. “No one is targeting people or voters. They’re targeting invalid voter roll entries.”

As of this summer, over 25,500 voter challenges in several Georgia counties resulted in more than 1,800 registration cancellations, according to the voting rights group Fair Fight Action.