GOP activists plan mass voter eligibility challenges with new Georgia law

Voting rights groups fear eligible voters could be disqualified
A person walks into the Joan P. Garner Library at Ponce De Leon as the polls open for Georgia for the presidential primary on Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

A person walks into the Joan P. Garner Library at Ponce De Leon as the polls open for Georgia for the presidential primary on Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Conservative activists are preparing to question the validity of thousands of Georgia voter registrations this summer, an election-year effort under the state’s new voter challenge law.

The coming wave of voter eligibility challenges will seek to disqualify voters who appear to have moved from Georgia, building on 250,000 challenges filed in 2020 and over 100,000 since then. Most challenges have been dismissed by county election boards.

This time, activists are recruiting volunteers to target voter registrations based on data from organizations such as EagleAI and True the Vote. They will also use the election law Gov. Brian Kemp signed this month, which sets criteria for local election boards to uphold or deny voter challenges.

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

“There’s a risk of a flood of challenges during the summer as bad actors try to challenge as many voters as possible,” said Kristin Nabers, Georgia director for All Voting Is Local, a voting rights organization that tracks voter challenges. “It’s about destroying trust in our voting systems. These allegations of voter fraud are just another way to perpetuate the stream of lies about our elections.”

Voter challengers say they’re worried that outdated voter registrations could be a source of fraud — either through absentee voting by people who have moved away or by casting a ballot in someone else’s name — though few cases of double voting have ever been found by election investigators. All Georgia voters are required to provide ID before they can vote either in person or by mail.

“Clean voter rolls are very important,” said Stefan Bartelski, a retired technology consultant who recently challenged 801 registrations in Forsyth County. “We always do our best to make sure that we’re not disenfranchising anyone, but mistakes happen occasionally. I really believe we do a lot more cleanup than any harm.”

Bartelski relied on a list of voters generated by EagleAI, a Columbia County-based startup company that uses publicly available information to attempt to identify people who have moved or registered to vote in another state. The Forsyth election board denied his challenges in April because they lacked evidence beyond EagleAI’s data.

Bartelski, the state coordinator for EagleAI, said its users across Georgia plan to make “a good push” to file more voter challenges in the coming months. True the Vote has also hyped its database of voter registration information, sending mass emails seeking volunteers to file voter challenges.

Critics of the EagleAI software say its information is unreliable because voters might have moved back to Georgia, or it could flag two different people with the same names and birth years, endangering their ability to vote.

The Republican Party chairman in Macon-Bibb County, David Sumrall, also said he used EagleAI to assist his challenges of 791 registrations of people who appeared to have moved, used P.O. boxes for their addresses or listed Mercer University as their address. The county election board rejected the challenges last month because the National Voter Registration Act prohibits systematically removing voter registrations within 90 days of a federal election.

“I only want people to vote lawfully where they live, regardless of party,” Sumrall said in an email.

Macon-Bibb County election board member Tom Ellington said he expects more voter challenges to come soon.

“We are risking disenfranchising people because of guesswork,” Ellington, a Democrat, said during the board’s April 29 meeting.

Credit: Contributed

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Credit: Contributed

Georgia’s new voter challenge law builds on the state’s 2021 statute that reinforced the ability for any eligible voter to challenge an unlimited number of voter registrations within their county.

Under the law, voter challenges would be upheld if a Georgia voter registers in another state, claims a homestead exemption in a different jurisdiction or registers at a nonresidential address. Challengers can use change-of-address information from the U.S. Postal Service to question registrations, but they must back it up with additional evidence.

Challenges can’t be considered within 45 days of an election, and they can’t disqualify college students, members of the military and out-of-state government employees who have temporarily moved from Georgia.

The law goes into effect July 1, opening a window for voter challenges to be filed until mid-September.

Voter challenges can speed up the government’s regular process of removals of outdated registrations, a process that can take years. But there have been several cases of erroneous challenges that canceled voters who were eligible Georgia residents. The secretary of state’s office canceled 189,000 inactive voter registrations last year.

Republicans often file voter challenges in large counties that tend to vote for Democrats, resulting in a large number of challenges against Black voters, said Carol Anderson, an African American studies professor at Emory University and a board member of Fair Fight Action, the voting rights group Democrat Stacey Abrams founded.

“It is a way to write a law that says, ‘We don’t want Black folks to vote’ without writing a law saying ‘We don’t want Black folks to vote,’ ” Anderson said. “It is like carbon monoxide: It chokes the lifeblood out of American democracy.”

EagleAI CEO Rick Richards said he wouldn’t speculate on whether the new law will help the voter challenge process.

“I would say those people or entities that are vested in having inaccuracies remain on the voter roll will file legal action to delay or prevent enforcement,” Richards said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia has threatened to sue over “baseless mass voter challenges.”

Besides EagleAI, activists could also use True the Vote’s voter challenge technology called IV3, which includes the addresses of over 211 million registered voters across the country.

True the Vote, a conservative Texas-based organization that defeated a lawsuit last year alleging that voter challenges in 2020 amounted to voter intimidation, didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

Although True the Vote won the case, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones wrote in his ruling that the group’s voter challenges “lacked reliability” and verge on “recklessness.”


New Georgia voter challenge law

  • County election boards can find probable cause to uphold challenges to Georgia voters’ eligibility if they register in another state, claim a homestead exemption in a different jurisdiction or register at a nonresidential address.
  • Election officials can consider change-of-address information when evaluating voters’ qualifications, but challenges require additional evidence besides change-of-address information.
  • Challenges can’t be considered within 45 days of an election.
  • Challenges can’t target college students, members of the military and out-of-state government employees who have temporarily moved from Georgia.