By Kristina Torres - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Georgia canceled the registration of more than a half-million voters over the weekend, part of an ongoing round of maintenance to clean up the state’s voting rolls.
Each of the 591,548 voters affected by the move had already been on the state’s “inactive” registration list. That means they had not voted, updated their voter registration information, filed a change of name or address, signed a petition or responded to attempts to confirm their last known address for at least the past three years.
None of the voters had had any contact with local election officials or the state since at least Sept. 16, 2014, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office.
The date coincides with the early-voting period leading up to the midterm Nov. 4, 2014, general election. State and federal law requires that Georgia give voters at least two federal general election cycles before it can take action to remove voters from the rolls, as it did starting overnight Friday.
“Voter list maintenance is both a statutory obligation and critical safeguard for the integrity of the ballot box,” said Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office. “By regularly updating our rolls, we prevent fraud and ensure that all votes are cast by eligible Georgia voters.”
The effort was part of the state’s regular off-year maintenance of the rolls, which up until this weekend included about 6.9 million voters.
Georgia removed almost 732,800 voters in its previous round of rolls cleanup between 2014 and 2016, according to a recent report from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Three-quarters of these voters were dropped because they had moved away.
This year’s effort, however, is coming at a fraught time for some civil rights advocates.
Georgia’s work to clean up its rolls unintentionally coincides with a request from the U.S. Justice Department to 44 states including Georgia asking how they remove voters from the rolls who should no longer be eligible to vote.
At the same time, a separate federal commission created by President Donald Trump to investigate unsubstantiated claims of “millions” of illegal votes cast in last year’s presidential election has also drawn ire over a query seeking personal information on state voters themselves, such as their addresses, dates of birth, party affiliations and voting histories.
Several weeks ago, the state through local county election offices also sent out address confirmation notices to more than 383,400 voters as part of its biennial cleanup effort. Such notices are used across the country to confirm whether a voter has moved outside a registrar’s jurisdiction.
Voters who receive them are told they have 30 days to respond, either to confirm their address or to indicate their new one, and risk being moved to the state’s “inactive” registration list if they don’t.
Being declared “inactive” would then start the clock ticking on the years-long process that culminates in being cut from registration rolls, although an “inactive” voter in Georgia is still legally registered to vote and by law has full access to a ballot.
“Being made an ‘inactive’ voter has consequence,” said Sean Young, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, which on Friday sued Fulton County over the fact that some of the address confirmation notices went to voters who had moved within the same county.
The group says those voters should not face the possibility of being declared “inactive” because state law doesn’t mandate such an action for that particular group of voters. The ACLU said it also believes that goes beyond what’s federally allowed.
“Intimidating and confusing voters with bureaucratic nonsense,” Young said, “is classic voter suppression.”
Fulton County officials have said they did nothing wrong by sending the notices, which are supplied by the state but mailed by local counties.