Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit Thursday against Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the Republican nominee for governor, challenging the state’s “exact match” voter registration law. The controversial law allows voter registration applications to be put on hold for even minor discrepancies between the application form and state records – and ultimately to be purged if the discrepancies are not eventually corrected.
The lawsuit alleges the system has “a discriminatory impact on African-American, Latino and Asian-American applicants” and that it imposes “severe burdens on voting-eligible Georgians’ fundamental right to vote that are not justified by any rational or compelling state interest.”
According to the lawsuit, of the more than 50,000 voter registrations that were pending, as of July 2018, due to “exact match”-related issues, some 80 percent were submitted by African-Americans, Latino or Asian Americans.
“Only 9.83 percent of the ‘pending’ for failure to verify applications were submitted by applicants identifying as White,” the lawsuit alleges.
Kemp’s gubernatorial opponent is former Georgia House minority leader Stacey Abrams, who, if elected would be the first female black governor.
The lawsuit was filed in a federal court in Atlanta by several voting rights legal groups on behalf of civil rights organizations in the state.
The protocol targets registrations that are off even a single letter, digit, or hyphen, when compared to driver’s license records and other state records. It also puts naturalized citizens’ voter registrations at risk, the lawsuit alleged, given the system’s use of databases that may not have been updated to reflect when a immigrant has obtained citizenship and is thus eligible to vote.
Kemp previously faced a lawsuit from civil rights groups when he was implementing the “exact match” system as an administrative policy. As part of a 2017 settlement of the lawsuit, Kemp agreed to lift a 40-day deadline applicants faced, under the policy, to address the discrepancies before being removed from the rolls.
Georgia’s GOP legislature then passed a law later that year signed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R) reinstating it, with some tweaks. Applicants whose registrations are “pending” due to exact match issues have 26 months, under the law, to rectify the discrepancies before they are fully removed from the rolls. The law also allows those with “pending” registrations who show up at their polling place within that 26-month period to cast a regular ballot if they show an ID.
“Because of the errors and limitations inherent in the ‘exact match’ protocol, the 26-month cancellation requirement for ‘pending’ applicants will undoubtedly result in the cancellation of pending applications that are facially complete and accurate before the 2020 Presidential election cycle,” the lawsuit alleged.
The lawsuit claims the law is a violation of the Constitution, the Voting Rights Act, and the National Voter Registration Act.
“The Georgia exact match protocol also turns the act of filling out a voter registration application into an unduly challenging exercise,” the lawsuit said, arguing minority voters, low income earners, and non-English speakers in particular may struggle with the bureaucratic hurdles.
Candice Broce, a press secretary for the secretary of state’s office, called the lawsuit a “publicity stunt that the media falls for year after year.”
“Their claims are bogus. It is a complete waste of our time and taxpayer dollars. This so-called ‘exact match’ law was passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Deal,” her statement said. “The 53,000 Georgians cited in their complaint can vote in the November 6th election. Any claims to the contrary are politically motivated and utterly false.”
Her statement also said that the Georgia law “mirrors a Florida law recently upheld in the 11th Circuit.”
However, under the Florida law, according to the lawsuit, election officials review each registration that is caught in the match system to “determine whether the matching failure can be explained by common errors that are readily correctable” by the state election’s office. It also has no mandated deadline for discrepancies to be addressed before the registration is fully purged from the rolls, according to the lawsuit.