Federal Judge Puts Pause on Georgia Voter Roll Purges

The motion was filed by Fair Fight Action in U.S. District Court, just hours before the secretary of state’s office planned to begin the purge of inactive voter registrations

Abrams Gillum Judicial nomination
AP/John Amis

A federal judge on Monday put a pause on Georgia’s planned mass purge of its voting rolls, following an emergency request from a voting rights group founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams. U.S. District Judge Steve Jones said in his order that the state should “maintain the status quo.”

The motion was filed by Fair Fight Action in U.S. District Court, just hours before the secretary of state’s office planned to begin the purge of inactive voter registrations.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in October released a list of over 313,000 voters whose registrations were at risk of being canceled, about 4% of the state’s total registered voters. Notices were mailed in November giving those voters 30 days to respond in order to keep their registration intact. A spokesman for the secretary of state’s office said last week that the purge was set to begin Monday evening.

Fair Fight says that over 120,000 people are on the purge list “solely because they have not voted or had any other statutorily-defined ‘contact’ with election officials in the past seven years and have not responded to two notices seeking confirmation of their current address.” The organization says a new law allows voters nine years of inactivity before being removed — compared to seven years under the old law — and are asking that a judge immediately halt the removal of those voters from Georgia’s voting rolls.

“Georgians should not lose their right to vote simply because they have not expressed that right in recent elections, and Georgia’s practice of removing voters who have declined to participate in recent elections violates the United States Constitution,” Fair Fight Action CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo said in a statement.

Voter purges in Georgia became a hot-button issue during last year’s race for governor between Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp, who won the race. Kemp served as secretary of state before being elected governor and oversaw aggressive voter purges during his tenure. Over 1.4 million voter registrations were canceled in Georgia between 2012 and 2018.

While some of those set to be removed have either moved or died, others were to be dropped for not voting in several election cycles.

“The list of Inactive Voters is composed of people who did not respond to notices sent to them because they had either filed a change of address form with the U.S. Postal Service, had official election mail returned undeliverable or who have not had contact with the election system for three years,” the secretary of state’s office says in an online description of the removal process. “Although these people failed to respond to that initial notice, they still remained able to vote normally for two additional election cycles equal to four years, but their registration will be canceled if they fail to respond to the notice mailed to them ... or had other contact, such as voting, signing a petition or changing the address on their driver’s license.”

Election officials have defended the list maintenance, saying it makes the administration of elections smoother and helps guard against voter fraud.

“Accurate voter lists limit confusion and delays at polling places on Election Day, and make sure voters get the correct ballot,” Chris Harvey, elections director for the secretary of state’s office, has said previously. “Accurate registration lists also allow county election offices to plan for polling place equipment and staffing needs. Accurate voter lists reduce the opportunities for mistakes or fraud.”

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