Georgia’s “Non-Citizen” Voting Controversy: A Recap

So let’s briefly look back at what appears to have happened in the controversy over voting in Georgia this election cycle.

First, GOP Secretary of State Karen Handel, based on an interpretation of federal election law, purged around 50,000 newly registered voters from the rolls, based on discrepancies between the information on their voter registration form and that in state databases. About 5000 of those voters were purged because the state found that they had checked a box on their drivers license application indicating that they’re non-citizens.

Voting-rights groups sued Handel, claiming that the purge violated federal voting laws, and that the procedure for identifying non-citizens was flawed. For instance, the plaintiff in the case, Jose Morales, had applied for his drivers license while a non-citizen, but had become a naturalized citizen before the election. Since the drivers database is not automatically updated in such cases, he was still flagged as a non-citizen.

Ultimately, a judge required Handel to send a letter to the voters flagged as non-citizens, informing them that their status was in question and notifying them that they could cast a provisional ballot. But if they didn’t provide election officials with documents proving their citizenship, within a few days after the election, their ballots would be thrown out.

Many such voters — in some counties, about two thirds — did return with the correct documentation. But of course, many didn’t, and some counties began throwing out ballots this week.

And the fact that so many did provide documentation only served to bolster the contention of voting-rights groups that the process for flagging voters had been badly flawed. That claim was further strengthened by the fact that the system now seems to have flagged not only naturalized citizens like Morales, but also U.S. born voters whose citizenship has never been in question. One of these voters, a veteran of the U.S. military who received Handel’s letter telling her that her citizenship was in question, spoke to TPMmuckraker yesterday.

It’s still not clear how many voters were wrongly flagged, and either had their ballots thrown out or were discouraged by Handel’s letter from voting in the first place. The question is not academic, because a runoff vote in Georgia’s U.S. Senate race, between Republican Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin, is scheduled for December 2nd, after neither man gained 50 percent last week. The vote is expected to be extremely close, and voters who have been designated as non-citizens, correctly or incorrectly, will presumably be barred from casting conventional ballots once again.

Handel’s office has said it’s working on compiling those numbers, though it appears to be in no rush. We’ll keep you posted on what we hear…

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