Photo courtesy State of Georgia.
Almost one year ago, Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) barely eked out a win over Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams by throwing Black voters off the voting rolls. This week, Georgia law allowed the Republican-run Secretary of State’s office to push through a second round of voter purging. The office will begin mailing out purge notices to individuals who have not voted in previous elections. Recipients will have 30 days to respond, or they will be tossed from the rolls and will not be able to vote in their precinct.
Democracy advocates argue there are no U.S. laws demanding voters be removed because of a failure to vote in past elections, but the Secretary of State is working around this by couching the purge as an effort to “clean up voter rolls.”
“Voters should not lose their right to vote simply because they have decided not to express that right in recent elections,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, the CEO for Fair Fight Action, a group that is taking the state to court over its anti-democratic practices. “Having a long history of voter suppression, the Georgia Secretary of State’s office has a responsibility to guarantee that not a single voter is wrongly included on the purge list.”
Kemp won his seat as governor by 54,700 votes, but only after working in his position as the Secretary of State to purge hundreds of thousands of mostly Black voters and preventing thousands of others from registering to vote. Kemp’s initial purge of more than 500,000 voters in 2017 amounted to the single
After losing her race against Kemp (but refusing to concede due to Kemp’s election tampering), Abrams went on to found Fair Fight Action. Her organization’s federal lawsuit alleges that Georgia stymied democracy and frustrated voters through missing or canceled registrations and precinct closures in urban, majority-Black precincts and malfunctioning voting equipment. This resulted in long lines of voters and missed voting opportunities, because many voters don’t have the luxury to hang around all day waiting to vote.
In 2017, the ACLU of Georgia filed a similar lawsuit against the Secretary of State’s Office for illegally canceling almost 160,000 registered Georgia voters from the active voter list. Kemp, as Secretary of State, settled the suit by agreeing to comply with state and federal law. Today, the Georgia ACLU is no less incensed at the Secretary of State’s office, even after Kemp’s departure.
“We are very concerned and disappointed that the Secretary of State persists in cancelling the registration of duly registered Georgia citizens. The ACLU of GA has worked very hard to protect voter rights and ensure that people would have adequate opportunity to correct errors that resulted in cancellations in their ability to exercise their sacred, constitutional right to vote,” said Georgia ACLU executive director Andrea Young. “It is especially concerning ahead of municipal elections across the state.”
Young advised every state resident to check their voter registration status to see if they’ve been purged and to contact the ACLU for help, if they have. She added the ACLU of Georgia will conduct its own efforts to notify purged voters, which will include volunteer phone banks.
“We encourage anyone who receives a postcard to return it right away, and we encourage all voters to periodically check their registration status at mvp.sos.ga.gov. Any Georgian with questions about voting should call the voter protection hotline at 1.888.730.5816,” Young said.
Critics say that preventing people from voting is a key position of the Republican Party, and that the purge is yet another typical GOP tactic. It is the kind of scheme hatched by a party that is losing power as demographic shifts in the nation move away from the almost exclusively-white GOP.
“The GOP is most definitely afraid of what they consider to be a minority position taking over,” said Roswell, Georgia resident Mena Ganey. “They do everything in their power to make sure that they can cling to their dying party: gerrymandering, voter purges, and other divisive tactics such as shutting down polling places or limiting the number of machines in major urban areas.”
“These are not the normal practices of a healthy party, but rather a last-ditch effort to stop the inevitable,” Ganey told The Lighthouse.