As the Nov. 6 congressional mid-term elections near, hundreds of thousands of people in one state are allegedly being denied the right to vote.
Brian Kemp, Georgia's Republican secretary of state, has been accused of exploiting the powers of his office to purge more than a half-million people from the rolls. He says the residents' voter registrations were canceled because they moved away from the state, but the claim does not hold up to scrutiny.
Analysts have found that 340,134 of the voters still live at the Georgia addresses listed on their registration forms. “They never should have been removed,” said John Lensor of CohereOne, which assisted in a review of the scandal.
The purge has disproportionately affected young, low-income and minority voters – some of the demographic groups most likely to vote against Kemp in his bid to become Georgia's next governor. His Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, would be the first black woman to hold the top elected office in any state.
Independent journalist Greg Palast, in an article for Truthout, accused the secretary of state of denying citizens the right to vote for years. The reporter recently filed a lawsuit in Atlanta federal court challenging the purges.
According to Palast, the voter registrations of 530,510 Georgians have been canceled or tagged as “inactive.” More than 19,000 of them died. The journalist and his associates, who searched nearly 200 databases (including cellphone records and tax documents), were unable to determine what happened to about 80,000 others.
State officials did not bother to send notices to the purged voters who still reside in Georgia. Instead, people who skipped any previous election received postcards asking for confirmation of their addresses. Those who did not respond were removed from the voter list.
Kemp does not deserve credit for devising the tactic. Many other politicians in various states have done the same thing to boost their electoral ambitions. Most of them, Palast pointed out, are Republicans.
The Voter Registration Act of 1993 made it illegal to void anyone's registration just because they did not vote in an election. The law changed in June, when the U.S. Supreme Court sanctioned purges of those who fail to vote and do not return the postcards.
Though the justices stipulated that there must be a reason to suspect a voter has left a state, the provision is not being enforced. Palast wrote that because “Kemp has steadfastly refused to look at evidence that would show a voter has not moved … my foundation did the work for him.”
The review indicated that thousands of other Georgians who simply moved to another part of the same county also had been removed from the rolls. The law clearly states that re-registration is not necessary in such cases.
Mark Swedlund, one of the election experts whom Palast recruited for the study, said he was not surprised to learn that poor and African-American voters were most likely to be purged. “It doesn't shock me at all,” he said. “Response rates are lower among people of color, in particular among African-American renters.”
Swedlund explained: “Postcards are the weakest form of mailers to get a response. If you use that as a basis for determining whether somebody moved or not, you would be making a very big mistake.”
Many Georgians will not find out they are ineligible to vote until they arrive at the ballot box. Their only option will be to fill out provisional ballots, which poll workers almost never count.
The Peach State's Republican-led Legislature passed a bill last year mandating an “exact match” of voter-identification forms and drivers' licenses. Vox reported that the slightest variation – including “a missing hyphen, extra space or typo” – can result in a person being purged.
Kemp's secretary of state office, citing the legislation, has not processed about 53,000 voter-registration applications. African-Americans filed an overwhelming majority of the pending registrations, according to The Associated Press.
Georgia is not the only place where GOP officials have been tipping the scales in their favor in the lead-up to the mid-terms. Purges, voter-identification laws, and other dubious techniques are limiting voting rights in North Dakota, Ohio, Missouri, Kansas, New Hampshire and elsewhere.
The voter-suppression efforts could have a significant impact on the elections. At stake is which party will control the Senate and House of Representatives, which will determine the future of Trump's agenda.
Republicans argue that they are simply trying to prevent voter fraud, though the crime is extremely rare. Researchers at Loyola Law School found only 35 proven fraud cases among more than 800 million ballots cast from 2000 to 2014.
Shortly after taking office, Trump appointed a Voter Fraud Commission to investigate the supposedly widespread problem. He falsely claimed that thousands of undocumented immigrants cast ballots for his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 presidential election. The commission abandoned its probe after failing to find anything to back up the president's allegations.