Elections|Federal Judge Backs Georgia’s Purge of Nearly 100,000 Voters
A federal judge on Friday backed Georgia’s removal of nearly 100,000 names from the state’s voter rolls.
The decision comes as state officials face accusations of voter suppression, particularly against black and low-income voters. Scrutiny of voting rights in Georgia has been heightened since the governor’s race in 2018 brought long lines at polling sites and criticism of outdated voting machines.
In the ruling, the judge, Steve C. Jones, said the lead plaintiff, Fair Fight Action, a voting rights advocacy organization, did not prove that the Georgia secretary of state’s decision to cancel the voter registration status of inactive voters violated the United States Constitution.
The judge, an appointee of former President Obama, also ordered the secretary of state to make “diligent and reasonable efforts” through its website and news releases to inform residents about registration, especially residents that have until Monday to re-register to vote ahead of a special election in January for a seat in the state’s House of Representatives.
In October, Georgia officials announced plans to remove more than 300,000 names from its lists of voters. About 100,000 had moved to a different county or state and about 80,000 had mail that was classified as undeliverable.
Fair Fight Action argued against the removal of about 120,000 voters from the state’s rolls and the state restored about 22,000 names to the voting rolls.
According to court documents, Fair Fight Action argued that the state was disenfranchising voters after a name was purged because of the state’s “use it or lose it” rule, which bumps from the rolls voters who had not voted in the past several elections.
In 2019, Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill into law requiring the secretary of state to wait five years before removing inactive voters. Previously, the state was allowed to remove names from rolls if there was no contact with a voter for three years.
“Our efforts to protect Georgia voters have already resulted in approximately 26,500 voters remaining on the rolls who would have otherwise been purged, and the state is now required to take additional steps to notify purged voters as a result of our litigation,” Lauren Groh-Wargo, Fair Fight Action’s chief executive, said in a statement.
Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, said in a statement that the ruling “upheld Georgia’s decision to continue to maintain clean voter rolls.”
“Despite activists efforts and lawsuits that only waste taxpayer dollars, Georgia is continuing to ensure every eligible voter can vote and voter lists remain accurate,” he said.
Fair Fight Action was founded by Stacey Abrams, the Democrat who narrowly lost the race for governor in 2018 to Mr. Kemp, Georgia’s former secretary of state. In March, the House Oversight and Reform Committee began an investigation into voter suppression in the state.
The ruling in Georgia comes amid voter restrictions and purges elsewhere in the country.
A legal notice filed on Thursday showed that a federal judge in North Carolina planned to block a new voter identification law that critics had said would deter black and Latino residents from voting. The state N.A.A.C.P. had sued and sought an injunction against the law.
The judge, Loretta C. Biggs, who was also an Obama administration appointee, noted that the state Board of Elections said it planned a large statewide mailing to educate voters about the law on Tuesday. She said she would grant the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction and would formally block the requirement, which was scheduled to begin in 2020.
Unless the preliminary injunction is successfully appealed, the requirement will be halted until the lawsuit is resolved.
Karen Zraick contributed reporting. Jack Begg contributed research.