Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp must take steps to make sure the state’s controversial “exact match” voter registration system does not disenfranchise newly naturalized citizens who were being tagged in the system as non-citizens due to outdated state records, a federal judge ruled Friday.
Kemp, known for championing voter restrictions, is the GOP nominee for governor in an extremely competitive race against Stacey Abrams, the minority leader of Georgia’s House of Representatives. The campaign battle between Kemp, who is white, and Abrams, who is black, parallels a years’ long political and legal fight between them over voting rights in the state.
The order from U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross was a victory for the voting rights groups challenging the state’s “exact match” law, which has frozen the registrations of more than 50,000 Georgians. This phase of the litigation focused specifically on the 3,100 registrants listed as pending in the exact match system due the citizenship issue.
Many of those registrants are believed to be eligible voters wrongly caught up in the system because state records reflect driver’s licenses or other IDs they obtained as non-citizens before they were naturalized.
According to Ross’ order, those flagged as non-citizens in Georgia’s system should be given the opportunity to address the issue both before and on Election Day by providing proof of citizenship to election officials in person, by mail, email or fax. Those who show up at their polling place on Election Day without the documents will also be able to vote provisionally, under Ross’ order, and be allowed to provide those documents by the Friday after the election to have their vote counted.
Georgia had claimed in the lawsuit that a similar system was already being implemented for the 2018 election. However, the experience of one voter presented by the challengers in the lawsuit showed that those caught up in the exact match system for citizenship issues were still being required to jump through extra hoops due to the state’s reliance on outdated records.
Yotam Oren — an immigrant who was naturalized in 2017 but got a driver’s license as a non-citizen in Georgia in 2010 — knew he was listed as pending in the voter registration system, and brought his passport to an early voting place, according to court filings. The election workers were not able to get on the phone the official who could fix his registration, but instead of letting him vote provisionally, requested that he come to vote another time.
Judge Ross knocked the state for not doing enough to make sure voters like Oren didn’t face those burdens, pointing to the lack of information about those voters’ options in Georgia’s election training manuals and on the elections website.
She also noted the disproportionate effect the citizen match issue has on voters of color.
Under her order, any poll worker should be able to verify a voter’s proof of citizenship and let the person vote regularly, not just the board of registrars or a deputy registrar, as was required under the law.
Read the order below: