Georgia Wrongfully Purged 200K Voters—With Focus on Black Voters, ACLU Report Finds

Georgia Wrongfully Purged 200K Voters—With Focus on Black Voters, ACLU Report Finds
A new report found almost 200,000 voters in Georgia were purged from the rolls for allegedly moving—when in reality, they had not moved at all. (cool revolution / Flickr)

A recent shocking report published by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) exposes massive voter suppression efforts in Georgia. After seven years of investigations into voter purges in Georgia, the Palast Initiative Fund, a non-partisan nonprofit organization part of the Sustainable Markets Foundation, published their findings.

Among the most shocking:

  • Almost 200,000 voters in Georgia were purged from the rolls for allegedly moving—when in reality, they had not moved at all. (This matters: Then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp won the 2018 gubernatorial race by a margin of fewer than 55,000 votes.)
  • Voters were purged at a 63.3 percent error rate. 
  • Three out of four voters were wrongly determined by the state to have moved from their voting jurisdictions.
  • An overwhelming majority of the wrongly identified movers resided in the Atlanta Metro Area—a majority Black city

“The real takeaway from this is the state of Georgia is using a methodology for maintaining its voter rolls that is both more expensive and less accurate than what industry would use to maintain a high-quality mailing list,” Andrea Young of the ACLU told CNN.

To cast a vote in a state, federal or local election, an individual’s name must appear on a voter registration list—often called a voter roll. If someone’s name does not appear on the voter registration list, they will not be able to vote. According to Ballotpedia, state and local officials are authorized to regularly remove citizens from voter registration lists. This is supposed to keep the voter rolls up-to-date, and ensure that voters who have moved, are deceased, or are ineligible do not remain on the list.

However, voter purging can quickly become voter suppression when not done properly. 

Imagine arriving at your local polling station, only to find that you cannot vote in the election because your name has been wrongfully removed from the voter registration list. At this point, it is the day of the election, and there is no way to re-register in time to cast a ballot. This nightmare scenario was indeed the case for hundreds of thousands of voters in Georgia, the Palast Initiative Fund found. 

The state of Georgia carried out this voter purge using a sloppy methodology over the course of the last three years: They utilized the U.S. Postal Service’s National Change of Address registry (NCOA), returned mail, or a failure to vote in two federal election cycles in combination with a failure to return a “confirmation” postcard to cancel individual voter registrations. 

“These methods violate commercial industry standards and the U.S. Post Office requirements for address verification and lead, as we discovered, to substantially inaccurate, ‘unreasonable’ results that deprive U.S. citizens of their constitutional right to vote,” the ACLU report reads.


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To execute this voter purge process, Georgia utilized a harmful, three-pronged approach.

First, the state’s use of the NCOA registry wrongfully cancels the registration of those who have moved within the same registration jurisdiction. By law, only when there is reasonable evidence that a voter has moved from their registration jurisdiction may they be removed from the voter rolls of their former district. Many in Georgia were removed from voter registration lists despite moving within their jurisdiction. 

For example, the report found that even those who moved units within the same apartment building were liable for removal from voter rolls using the NCOA registry. Further, over 340,000 people were removed from the list by the secretary of state—when they had, in fact, not moved at all. In this case, the Palast Initiative found an extremely high error rate: three out of four voters had not moved, yet still had their registration cancelled. Even this is a conservative estimate, as researchers were not able to confirm with every individual. 

Secondly, the practice of “use it or lose it” voter registration is unconstitutional. During every election many registered voters do not vote, and reasons for this vary widely from person to person. U.S. citizens have the right to choose whether or not they would like to vote in any given election.

What’s more, change of address has not been found to be a significant reason that registered voters do not vote—meaning this methodology makes little logical sense.

Third, those voters who did not vote in the prior two federal elections were sent a “confirmation” postcard that they were to return to keep their voter registration. Yet, many individuals never received these postcards. According to the ACLU report, “The state cancelled the voter registrations of an additional 84,376 citizens, because postcards sent to their residences were returned to the state or a county as undeliverable. Again, this is surprising as 51,785 of these voters have mailable addresses recognized by the Post Office.” 

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, voter registrations can be cancelled for lack of voting in combination with reasonable information. In this case, given the number of postcards that were deemed undeliverable, the postcard can hardly be deemed as reasonable information. 

Unsurprisingly, this voter suppression effort clearly had biases towards already historically disenfranchised voters. The ACLU report found that the methodology used by the state of Georgia targeted younger voters more likely to be moving more frequently, lower income voters more likely to be renting apartments, Black and Brown voters who are statistically more likely to be of lower income, and voters in urban locations. 

What does it mean that in this historically red state, the voter suppression efforts disproportionately targeted voters with identities that have historically voted blue? 

Take Action 

If you are a Georgia voter, you can check to see if you have been impacted by using the website, SaveMyVote2020.org

Voters in other states can check the status of their voter registration by using headcount.org.


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About

Abby Lawlor is a current student at Claremont Graduate University pursuing dual masters degrees in applied gender studies, and community engaged education & social change. She is an alum of Franklin & Marshall College, and a former Princeton in Asia fellow.