ATLANTA, GA, Oct. 11, 2018 – Today, a coalition of civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Georgia against Secretary of State Brian Kemp – the state’s top election official – to block the state from enforcing their “exact match” protocol that places tens of thousands of voter registration applications in suspense for errors as small as a misplaced hyphen, dash, or space. The result of the state’s protocol is the flagging for potential removal of thousands of registrations for innocuous mistakes such as misread handwriting or the incorrect transposition of driver’s license digits. These errors are often not the registrants’ fault and are unrelated to their eligibility.
Based on data produced by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, of the 51,111 voter registrations that were “pending” on July 4 as a result of a no-match, 80.15 percent were submitted by Black, Latino, and Asian-American registrants, partly due to the higher likelihood of misspelling or the omission of a letter or character. Earlier this week, the AP reported that 53,000 registrations are now in “pending” and that nearly 70 percent of those are Black registrants.
The system also relies on outdated citizenship data from the Department of Driver Services, which erroneously flags naturalized citizens as non-citizens – even when registrants present proof of citizenship upon initial registration. It appears that Secretary Kemp has no protocol for ensuring that even voters who provide proof of citizenship with their registration are not still flagged and asked to provide the same information again. This leads to confusion and suppresses voting.
Nearly every other state treats failure to match a database differently than Georgia. In the case of a mismatch, the voter is still fully registered. First-time voters are required to show a form of identification at the polls when they vote for the first time. This process provides the same amount of election security and imposes less barriers to voters.
Campaign Legal Center (CLC), Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law are serving as counsel in the case representing a coalition of civil rights groups: Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, Asian-Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, New Georgia Project, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, and ProGeorgia State Table. The suit alleges that Georgia’s protocol violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act, and the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
“Georgia’s ‘exact match’ protocol has resulted in the cancellation or rejection of tens of thousands of voter registration applications in the past. The reintroduction of this practice, which is known to be discriminatory and error-ridden, is appalling,” said Danielle Lang, senior legal counsel, voting rights and redistricting at CLC. “This policy adds nothing to the security of Georgia elections but causes unnecessary confusion and additional burdens for eligible citizens who wish to exercise their fundamental right to vote.”
“In 2016, we helped stop Georgia’s ‘exact match’ protocol that kicked thousands of voters off the voter rolls—some of them simply because they have uncommon Asian or Latino names that others commonly misspell,” said Phi Nguyễn, litigation director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta. “It is unacceptable that only two years later, we are once again asking a court to step in to end an almost identical ‘exact match’ protocol that threatens to disenfranchise thousands more from our communities.”
In 2017, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed House Bill 268 into law, which codified a voter registration database “exact match” protocol. HB 268 was introduced shortly after the settlement of a lawsuit filed in 2016 by CLC and others, which challenged a similar voter registration database “exact match” requirement that had been implemented by Kemp. A 2009 audit from the Social Security Administration’s inspector general that said matching voter records with a Social Security database produced inaccurate matching.
Given recent news reports, it is important to clarify that voters on this “pending” list for “exact match” issues are entitled to vote a regular ballot in person at the polls if they show Georgia voter photo ID. It is possible, however, that they will not be able to vote by mail or may have their vote by mail ballots rejected because Georgia absentee ballots do not require photo ID.
*Co-counsel in the case also include Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP and the Law Office of Bryan L. Sells, LLC.