‘Use it or lose it’ voter registration cancellations paused in Georgia

All 191,000 registration cancellations belong to people who likely moved
Poll workers prepare for voters on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022 at the Park Tavern in Atlanta. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)



Poll workers prepare for voters on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022 at the Park Tavern in Atlanta. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Georgia’s “use it or lose it” voter registration cancellations have gone on hiatus.

Almost no one is losing their ability to vote this year solely because they declined to participate in Georgia elections for several years, a temporary reprieve caused by court cases and changes to state laws.

Instead, the 191,000 voter registrations scheduled for cancellation this month belong to people who very likely moved away: They either filled out a national change-of-address form, or notification letters mailed to them were undeliverable by the U.S. Postal Service, according to data published by the secretary of state’s office.

Without “use it or lose it,” infrequent voters will have two more years before their registrations are removed, creating a backlog that could lead to a surge in cancellations in 2025.

In the meantime, Georgia’s voter rolls will continue to include some registrations of people who no longer live in the state and are therefore ineligible to vote. All Georgia voters are required to show ID before casting a ballot, and it’s illegal to vote twice or outside the state where they live.

This year’s round of voter registration cancellations, called voter “purges” by their critics, is an increase from 101,000 removals two years ago but less than the record-breaking 534,000 cancellations in 2017, when outdated registrations had built up for several years.

“Georgia’s voter rolls are among the most accurate in the nation because the secretary of state’s office removes dead voters from voter registration lists every month while consistently utilizing the Electronic Registration Information Center and other sources to ensure that Georgia’s voter rolls are as clean and accurate as possible,” said Mike Hassinger, a spokesman for Raffensperger.

Unlike nine Republican-led states that have recently quit ERIC, Georgia still participates in the multistate information-sharing organization to help determine when voters have moved from one state to another or died.

A series of decisions years ago led to this year’s pause in “use it or lose it” cancellations.

Georgia law requires voters to be declared “inactive” after five years of failing to participate in elections, contact election officials, respond to election officials’ mail or update their registrations. Then their registrations are voided if they miss the next two general elections.

But in 2017, when Gov. Brian Kemp was secretary of state, election officials didn’t change as many registrations to inactive status while the state was fighting a lawsuit that alleged Georgia’s cancellation practices were illegal. The U.S. Supreme Court later upheld similar cancellation laws in Ohio.

Then in 2019, the Georgia General Assembly extended the time before voters are designated as “inactive,” from three to five years, resulting in voters’ registrations remaining “active” that year.

Voting rights advocates say they’re concerned about the return of “use it or lose it” cancellations when Georgia next conducts mass registration cancellations in 2025. There are currently 126,000 registered voters designated as “inactive” because they haven’t had contact with election officials in over five years, according to state registration data.

“If a voter chooses not to vote in an election, that should not mean they don’t get to vote in a future election,” said Cindy Battles of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, a civil rights organization. “The biggest thing for folks to remember is that the best way to ensure you’re not purged in a ‘use it or lose it’ cleanup is to show up to vote.”

Kelly Loeffler, a former Republican U.S. senator who now runs the voting group Greater Georgia, said more should be done to ensure ineligible voters are removed.

“There is no justification for keeping voters on our rolls when they are deceased, moved, or when they have not voted for almost a decade,” Loeffler said. “Georgia’s election officials have a legal obligation to conduct routine maintenance for all of the above — to do anything less is to invite election fraud in our state.”

Voter fraud is rare in Georgia, and state election investigations have discredited allegations of ballot-stuffing, dead voters, underage voters and counterfeit ballots.

Of the 191,473 registrations set for cancellation this month, 55% of them were inactive because election mail sent to their address was undeliverable, and the remaining 45% were inactive because they filled out a change of address form. Just two people, both of whom haven’t had contact with election officials since 2012, are being canceled under the “use it or lose it” law.

Voters can check their registration status online through the state’s My Voter Page at mvp.sos.ga.gov.

Voters whose status is listed as “inactive” could be at risk of having their registrations canceled, but they can revive their registrations by either re-registering to vote or contacting their county’s election office.