Rampant, Racist Voter Suppression in Georgia Goes to Federal Court
… almost a quarter of a million previously registered voters who may want to vote in this election who will find their registrations cancelled based on an assumption that they had moved when they had not.
This is a travesty for the people of Georgia whose fundamental right to vote has been taken without any formal notice that their registrations have been cancelled.– Federal Court complaint against Georgia secretary of state Brian Kemp
By William Boardman, Reader Supported News
f Brian Kemp wins the 2018 election for governor of Georgia, it will be one more triumph for the massive corruption Republicans have brought to American voting for the past 20 years or more. Brian Kemp is currently Georgia’s secretary of state. Part of the secretary’s job, as chair of the State Elections Board, is to make decisions that determine who can vote, where they can vote, when they can vote, and whether their votes will be counted accurately – in other words, the whole voting process.
As a secretary of state running for governor, Kemp has a clear conflict of interest, since any of his decisions about voting rights could help his campaign. Many of them already have. Previous secretaries of state who ran for governor have taken themselves out of the voting rights conflict. Kemp has refused to do so. His corruption is so blatantly transparent, his spokesman dishonestly proclaims that “Kemp is fighting to protect the integrity of our elections and ensure that only legal citizens cast a ballot.”
The claim of illegal voting by non-citizens has been a Republican Big Lie for a long time now. It works, it scares people who don’t know any better, but it’s not true and has never been true. In 2016, the Brennan Center for Justice analyzed 23.5 million votes for taint. Out of 23 million votes, only a handful of ballots were flagged for investigation or prosecution. OK, it was a big handful – out of 23,500,000 ballots they found 30 – thirty! – that were suspect. Presumably their intimidation tactics work or Republicans wouldn’t work so hard to suppress the vote, even with recent (October 20), baseless presidential tweets.
Middle-aged white male Brian Kemp‘s opponent for governor is a progressive Democrat, Stacey Abrams, a middle-aged black woman and Yale Law School graduate who would be the first-ever African-American governor of Georgia. She founded the New Georgia Project, registering some 200,000 voters of color since 2014. Kemp has been disqualifying voters of color even faster. With Kemp recently holding a two-point lead (48-46), their race is considered a toss-up.
The lawsuit cited above grew out of a records request to the secretary of state on March 2, 2018. The request was made under both the Georgia Open Records Act and the 1993 federal National Voter Registration Act (52 U.S.C. 20501 et seq.), the primary purpose of which is “to establish procedures that will increase the number of eligible citizens who register to vote in elections for Federal office.” [emphasis added] Republicans like Kemp have spent a quarter century in more or less open defiance of this federal law, based on Congressional findings that would be unimaginable today:
(1) the right of citizens of the United States to vote is a fundamental right;
(2) it is the duty of the Federal, State, and local governments to promote the exercise of that right; and
(3) discriminatory and unfair registration laws and procedures can have a direct and damaging effect on voter participation in elections for Federal office and disproportionately harm voter participation by various groups, including racial minorities.
The plaintiffs in the federal case against Kemp are reporter Greg Palast of Los Angeles and civil rights activist Helen Butler of Atlanta. Palast has built an international reputation with his investigative reporting, especially his reporting on voting rights issues that others in the media (and the Democratic Party) tend to ignore. Butler is the executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda, which has organized state coalitions in more than half a dozen other southern states.
The initial request for legally public records included a request for information about how Georgia uses the Interstate Voter Crosscheck System in managing Georgia’s voter rolls. Crosscheck, which has a built-in racial bias against non-white voters, has been used since 2005, especially by Republican secretaries of state seeking to purge voters rolls into a more Republican-friendly form (led by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach). Crosscheck purports to identify “duplicate” voters in different states using only two data points: name and birthdate (different middle names, for example, are considered irrelevant). In 2017, Crosscheck claimed to find 7.2 million duplicate voter registrations out of 98 million analyzed in 28 states. Despite Crosscheck’s claim of the potential for over seven million voters to vote twice, only 4 – four! – double-voters were identified. Crosscheck is now dormant. The damage is lasting.
Kemp’s office did not respond to the request forthrightly. Instead, Kemp’s office demanded exorbitant payment in advance before providing redacted records. Other states acted similarly to stonewall legal “open records” requests.
On June 12, 2018, plaintiffs Palast and Butler filed a new request using only the National Voter Rights Act. The request allowed Kemp 90 days to reply. Kemp did not reply promptly to detailed questions about Crosscheck’s lists provided to Georgia in 2016 and 2017, as well as the “list of names and addresses of all those purged or changed to inactive in 2016 and 2017 and the basis for each individual being removed from the voter rolls….”
Kemp’s office did not respond in June. Kemp’s office did not respond in July. On August 14, plaintiffs sent Kemp a letter reminding him that his 90-day deadline for lawful compliance would expire on September 10. On September 4, Kemp provided a partial response, omitting any information about Crosscheck. In their October filing to compel a complete response to their questions, they wrote:
Plaintiffs were shocked when they saw that over a half a million Georgians had their registrations automatically cancelled through the inactivity process utilized by the Georgia Secretary of State.
Claiming that Georgians had not voted during a three-year period, Kemp’s office in 2017 cancelled the voter registrations of 534,517 Georgians for that reason alone. That is roughly one in 12 Georgians disenfranchised for not voting. That reason is illegal. That reason violates federal law – the National Voting Rights Act – which requires that state voting procedures “shall not result in the removal of the name of any person from the official list of voters registered to vote” solely because the person did not vote. Further reasons for removal include moving out of state, being convicted of a felony, or death.
Further analysis of the data showed that of the half-million-plus voters whose registrations were cancelled because they had supposedly moved, at least 340,134 of them – 61% of the total – still lived at the same address. These 340,134 persons did not know their registrations had been cancelled by the state. Palast posted all their names on his website in hopes that some might re-register before the October 9 deadline.
The cancellation of 340,134 registrations of people who have not moved is another violation of the National Voting Rights Act, which requires the state to keep voter rolls that are accurate and current.
This case is now before federal district judge Eleanor Louise Ross, an Obama appointee confirmed in 2014. In an interview with the Atlanta Tribune, Judge Ross said:
I believe this century has seen enormous strides by women and minorities in general. My having made history as the first African-American female on the U.S. Federal District Court in Atlanta, and one of the first two in the entire state, just continues to blow my mind. There are so many well-rounded, qualified candidates whom are ready to also jump in, if provided with the right opportunity. I think it is crucial that those of us already appointed and elected continue to work together to keep making history until it is not history anymore. It just is!
From that, one might infer that the judge is ready to rule for plaintiffs and deal a blow to Georgia’s corrupt voter management system. Restoring the voting rights of 340,134 purged voters would surely be the right thing to do. But even the plaintiffs have not asked for that kind of legal relief. The plaintiffs have asked only that Kemp be found in violation of the National Voter Rights Act and be compelled to provide all the information plaintiffs have requested.
That outcome would award corruption. That outcome would reward a state official for defying the law until the last possible minute. That outcome would leave purged voters with little useful recourse. That outcome might enable a corrupt secretary of state to become a corrupt governor. That outcome would allow Republicans to crow over protecting the integrity of the vote, when the truth is that they just went on corrupting it.
William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.