Eligibility challenges impede several Georgia voters at the polls

Poll workers inform voters they had been canceled or contested
Several dozen voters were ready for the first hour of early voting at the Buckhead Library located in Atlanta on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: John Spink / AJC

Credit: John Spink / AJC

Several dozen voters were ready for the first hour of early voting at the Buckhead Library located in Atlanta on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

When Barbara Helm tried to vote, she found out that her Georgia voter registration had been challenged by another voter and canceled last summer.

Helm, who is homeless and sleeps in her car, lost her ability to vote after a local Republican voter used the state’s election laws to contest the registrations of over 31,000 Forsyth County voters this year. About 600 of his challenges were successful.

In Helm’s case, the county elections board upheld the challenge against her in June because, lacking a residential address, she had registered to vote using the address of a post office in Cumming.

“You shouldn’t just block voters because of the address,” Helm said Monday. “My vote should be counted. I don’t feel like they should have done that to me.”

Helm is one of several eligible Georgians who have encountered hurdles during early voting following challenges to their qualifications.

Georgians who identify themselves as conservatives or election skeptics have challenged over 65,000 voter registrations across the state this year, based on a belief that voter lists are inaccurate and vulnerable to fraud. County election boards have upheld about 3,200 of the challenges and thrown out the rest.

State election investigations have repeatedly debunked allegations of illegal voters, counterfeit ballots and drop box abuse during the 2020 presidential election.

The people who have filed voter challenges often rely on change-of-address records or addresses that don’t match residential properties.

But some of their challenges affect eligible voters such as Helm. The man who challenged Helm, Frank Schneider, couldn’t be reached for comment Monday through publicly listed phone numbers.

Several dozen voters were ready in the first hour of early voting at the Buckhead Library in Atlanta on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)


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In another case, this time in Fulton County, Stephanie Friedman said she was shocked to be told that her registration had been challenged when she attempted to cast a ballot last week at the Milton Library.

Friedman, a naturalized U.S. citizen since 2016, was allowed to cast a regular ballot after election officials called the main office and verified her information.

“Nobody was able to tell me what this meant. Why me?” Friedman said. “Imagine somebody who is more vulnerable, who is very busy, who has to be clocking in somewhere.”

For years, Georgia has allowed residents to contest the registrations of other voters within the county where they live, but attempts to do so have increased since 2020.

The state’s latest election law, passed along party lines last year by the Republican-controlled General Assembly in the wake of the presidential election, explicitly allowed voters to file an unlimited number of challenges.

Joel Natt, the Republican vice chairman of the Forsyth elections board, said Helm could have responded to notification letters or re-registered to vote before the state’s Oct. 12 registration deadline.

“It could have been rectified and it wouldn’t have been a matter to be addressed,” said Natt, who made the motion to remove Helm’s registration at the county’s June elections board meeting. “All I can say is, she had time on her side to correct this.”

The fact that legitimate voters are learning they were challenged when they show up at polling places is problematic, said Kristin Nabers, state director for the voting rights organization All Voting Is Local.

Voters shouldn’t have to overcome unnecessary obstacles from challenges that incorrectly targeted them, Nabers said.

“Allegations of voter fraud and challenges to voter eligibility are not based on any reality. It’s really just a way to effectuate this never-ending stream of lies about our elections,” Nabers said. “It’s meant to intimidate voters. It’s meant to confuse voters.”

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has said that Georgia already has the cleanest voter rolls in the country. Regular voter registration cancellations have removed nearly 1 million outdated registrations over the past five years. There are now about 7.8 million registered voters in Georgia.

Federal and state laws call for a deliberate process that can take several years to cancel voter registrations. The government mails letters to voters whose addresses have changed, and those who don’t respond can be removed if they miss the next two general elections. Those who confirm they’ve moved are canceled without delay.

Voter challenges provide a method to speed up cancellations. If challenges are approved by county election boards, they take effect immediately.

Challenges don’t always result in registration removals. Depending on the circumstances, election boards can require voters to cast a ballot in “challenged” status that a county election board would review before results are certified.

If voters in “challenged” status provide sufficient evidence that they live at their registered address, they should be allowed to vote as usual at their polling place, according to a guidelines issued last month by the secretary of state’s office. Voters can resolve changes by showing their ID and signing a residency affirmation form.

Voter challenges at polling places are prohibited. Anyone seeking to challenge a voter’s registration must do so in advance and in writing to the county elections board.

In a third example of a voter challenge targeting an authentic voter, Morehouse School of Medicine doctoral student Jennifer Jones learned her eligibility had been contested when she went to a polling place on the second day of early voting, according to The Guardian, a British newspaper.

Poll workers told Jones she’d have to cast a provisional ballot, even after she verified her registration information. She told The Guardian she declined to cast a provisional ballot and planned to try to vote again later.