Georgia ACLU says state wrongly erased 200K voters from rolls in 2019

    A report released by the Georgia ACLU says the Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office incorrectly purged nearly 200,000 people from voter registration lists in 2019. Mario Tama/Getty Images

    A report released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia found that the state likely improperly purged 200,000 people from the voter rolls in 2019.

    The Palast Investigative Fund report “Georgia Voter Roll Purge Errors” said that the Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office removed 198,351 people from the voting registration list last year on the faulty premise that they moved without notifying the state.

    Instead, elections officials would have realized those residents were probably still living in the same place by performing a different type of address verification, said Greg Palast, the founder of the not-for-profit foundation supporting investigative journalism.

    Many of those voters, who represent 63% of the 313,243 voter names purged in October 2019, may not realize what’s happened until the next time they try to vote, said Palast.

    The state routinely updates the voter rolls every other year to ensure those who are registered are still eligible to vote in Georgia. Election officials do this by flagging people who have filed a change of address, whose election mail is returned as undeliverable, or who have not voted in several years or who failed to respond to a postcard seeking a response – known as “use it or lose it.” 

    The problem with the postcard notification, Palast said, is it can easily be overlooked as junk mail.

    “You don’t just remove people’s names willy nilly because someone, somewhere got some goofy list and then you send out a postcard. It’s wrong,” he said. “And I don’t think any Georgian wants to see a neighbor removed from the voter rolls because of some clerical error by the government.”

    The state’s voter registration cancellation policies drew controversy in the 2018 gubernatorial election, when just 54,700 votes separated then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacy Abrams. In July 2017, Kemp’s office canceled a record 591,000 voter registrations. 

    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in March that since 2017, more than 87,000 people re-registered to vote after losing their eligibility when they should not have.

    The state sends a final notice to a person’s last known address before they are removed from the voter rolls for not having “contact” with the state. Raffensperger has also started posting online the names of the voters who are at risk of being removed.

    As for the report’s findings that the 2019 purge wrongly removed the names of nearly 200,000 voters, Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs questioned Palast’s motivation.

    “It is unfortunate that the ACLU hired a known Stacey Abrams shill to conduct ‘research,’ especially when there are so many credible options on the left to hire,” Fuchs said in a statement. “Greg Palast has been discredited by many across the political spectrum. I welcome the ACLU to conduct a real study with a credible source, not someone who is spreading disinformation to shill for his book.”

    Palast said his research will hold up to scrutiny. 

    “It’s not right, left, it’s not Democrat and Republican, it’s about the American laws and system of voting,” he said. 

    The report’s findings come from address verification searches performed by five firms and also by analyzing the change-of-address information list provided by vendors licensed by the U.S. Postal Service.

    The report also suggests that Georgia’s method of sending postcards to verify whether a voter has moved is costlier than more effective alternatives such as a system used by major corporations like Home Depot and Amazon.

    ACLU of Georgia Executive Director Andrea Young urged all Georgia voters to go check their voting status online through the secretary of state’s or ACLU’s websites. 

    “There are Georgia citizens who are duly registered to vote that have every reason to assume that they are on the voter rolls,” she said. “If when they show up to vote, and they’re told no, you’re not on the list. It creates confusion for them.” 

    Stanley Dunlap
    Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.