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ACLU: Irregular Georgia Voter Purges Akin to ‘Jim Crow Voter Suppression’ (Updated)

Regina Willis

“Sending out confusing and intimidating Purge Notices in an irresponsible and unlawful manner has the effect, if not the purpose, of making it harder for Georgia voters ... to exercise their fundamental right to vote," said Sean Young, legal director of ACLU of Georgia.

UPDATE, July 11, 5:18 p.m.: ACLU officials have requested “that Fulton County immediately update their voter lists” to reflect intra-county changes of address and issue a “follow-up letter explaining your error and allowing such voters to verify or correct their new address while making it absolutely clear that the voter does not have to take any further action to maintain their registration.”

The ACLU of Georgia is exploring potential violations of federal elections law after a registered voter in Atlanta received a “purge notice” in the mail, uncovering more than 48,000 residents who received a similar notice in her county alone.

The ACLU alleges that, under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, it is unlawful to designate a voter as inactive—and ultimately remove them from the voter rolls—for moving within the same county.

The purge notices received by Stacey Hopkins and other Atlanta-area residents informed voters that if they do not respond within 30 days to confirm their voter registration details, they “will be moved to an inactive status.” After being inactive for two subsequent federal election cycles, the voter will then be removed from the voter rolls. An “inactive” status does not prevent a voter from casting a ballot. However, it is the first step to removing voters from the official voter rolls that counties maintain in partnership with the Georgia secretary of state.

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While these sort of notices are often part of regular voter list maintenance the secretary of state is required to perform under federal law, what’s unusual is that voters who moved within the same county received these notices. When voters move within the same county, they fall under a separate set of federal laws than if they move to a new county, called a “registrar’s jurisdiction” in the code.

In a letter obtained by Rewire from Sean Young, legal director of ACLU of Georgia, to Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections Chairperson Mary Carole Cooney, Young lays out the concerns surrounding the “purge notices” mailed to his client and at least 48,000 other residents of Atlanta’s Fulton County. It’s unclear how many other counties participated in sending out these purge notices, and how many have been sent to voters who moved within the same county.

“Sending out confusing and intimidating purge notices in an irresponsible and unlawful manner has the effect, if not the purpose, of making it harder for Georgia voters of all political parties—particularly voters with less income or educational background—to exercise their fundamental right to vote,” the letter states.

When Stacey Hopkins, the Fulton County resident who helped identify the voter purge issue, called the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections and later the secretary of state’s office to obtain information about her notice, neither could say why she had received a purge notice.

“Subjecting voters to such Kafkaesque, bureaucratic nonsense is a hallmark of Jim Crow voter suppression,” the letter states.

GOP lawmakers in Georgia have pushed and defended discriminatory voter ID laws that have been shown to suppress voter turnout in states across the country. More than 50,000 people in Georgia were flagged in 2008 purges, and more than 4,500 were flagged for questions of citizenship.

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