Georgia Military Vet, American Born, Was Flagged As Non-Citizen

Yesterday we reported on the election’s aftermath in Georgia, where some ballots cast by voters who were flagged as non-citizens are now being thrown out, despite evidence that the state’s system for identifying non-citizens was flawed.

We just spoke to one such Georgia voter. Karen Branch of Roswell, in North Fulton County, told TPMmuckraker that just a few days before the election, she received a letter from the office of Secretary of State Karen Handel, a Republican, informing Branch that there were questions about her citizenship.

When Branch went to vote on election day, poll workers told her she had to cast a provisional ballot. Eventually, voting-rights lawyers got on the phone with county election officers, and Branch was allowed to cast a conventional ballot.

But why was Branch flagged in the first place? Handel’s office has told us it compared new voter registrations with a state drivers registry, which asks applicants for a drivers license to check a box if they aren’t a citizen. It flagged any new voter who had checked that box as a possible non-citizen. After voting-rights groups sued, Handel was required by a judge to send letters to those voters — around 4700 in all — telling them that their citizenship was in question and that they would be forced to cast a provisional ballot.

Branch, an African-American who served in the U.S. military during the 90s and now works for a hospital corporation, said she has voted in Georgia in every presidential election since 2000, including this year’s primary. She moved from one part of the state to another after the primary — she re-registered at her new address — making her, technically, a newly registered voter. But her citizenship has never been in question — she was born in the U.S. and does not even own a passport. And she applied for her drivers license years ago — since which time she has been voting without incident — making it unlikely that she mistakenly checked the “non-citizen” box on her license application.

Branch told TPMmuckraker that she perceived the obstacles as a deliberate “deterrent” to voting, set up by the state.

It’s not yet clear how many other voters, like Branch, were mistakenly flagged. But as we noted yesterday, many counties found that around two thirds of flagged voters returned to election offices after election day with documentation proving their citizenship. That would suggest that the error rate in the state’s system is high, and that many of the voters who did not return with the proper documentation, some of whom are now having their provisional ballots thrown out, were also mistakenly flagged.

A spokesman for Handel’s office yesterday told TPMmuckraker that the office was compiling information from individual counties which would help determine the number of errors. We’ll be watching…

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