ver the past few months, upwards of 40,000 voter registrations from three counties in Georgia have reportedly gone missing. The groups that registered most of these voters, the Georgia chapter of the NAACP and the New Georgia Project, filed a lawsuit against Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, alleging that most of those missing registrations are from “members of the underrepresented classes of voters.” The lawsuit went before the court on Friday October 24. By the following Tuesday, the judge had dismissed the case, writing that “there has been no failure of clear legal duty,” and asserting that there was still time for the missing registrations to appear. The stakes in Georgia are high. The Senate contest between David Perdue and Michelle Nunn has hovered within a couple of percentage points. The Governor’s race between Nathan Deal and Jason Carter is just as close. The loss of tens of thousands of voter registrations is a big deal. In the four years that Brian Kemp has served as Georgia’s secretary of state, most of the issues that various voting rights activist groups have flagged have been about voter identification. This isn’t the first time, or the second, or even the third that Kemp has clashed with civil rights groups over voter registration. In 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court found that a Georgia law requiring first-time voters to show proof of U.S. citizenship (that went above and beyond federal requirements) violated the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, Kemp called the decision “disappointing.” Last Monday, on the eve of the dismissal of the lawsuit, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that eight protestors were arrested because they refused to leave Kemp’s office after breaking off from a larger rally and sit-in at the state Capitol.
I spoke with Georgia NAACP President Francys Johnson to figure out how 40,000 registrations could simply go “missing.” In Georgia, when a person registers to vote, his application is matched against two data systems to verify his identity. The first is the Georgia driver’s license system, which keeps records for every person in Georgia with a license. The second is a data system with the social security numbers of every Georgia resident. If neither of these systems yields a match, the registration application goes on a pending list, which is supposed to prompt a notification to the would-be voter that their application needs additional identification. Unfortunately, according to Johnson, many of these letters were never sent, and because a person on the pending list is removed from the system after 30 days, the registration of such an individual goes “missing.”