Even by Georgia standards, the voter purge of late July 2017 was remarkable. In a single day, more than half a million people — 8 percent of Georgia’s registered voters — were cut from the voter rolls. Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, an avid supporter of President Donald Trump who has described himself as a “politically incorrect conservative,” oversaw the removals eight months after he’d declared himself a candidate for governor. The purge was noteworthy for another reason: For an estimated 107,000 of those people, their removal from the voter rolls was triggered not because they moved or died or went to prison, but rather because they had decided not to vote in prior elections, according to an APM Reports analysis. Many of those previously registered voters may not even realize they’ve been dropped from the rolls. If they show up at the polls on Nov. 6 to vote in the heated Georgia governor’s race, they won’t be allowed to cast a ballot. Kemp’s opponent, Democrat Stacey Abrams, is vying to become the first African-American woman in U.S. history to serve as a governor. The state has undergone a dramatic influx of African Americans and Latinos whose votes could challenge Republican dominance, and her campaign is trying to turn out people of color, who are more likely to be infrequent voters. If the race is close, the July 2017 purge could affect the outcome.
The APM Reports analysis is the first estimate of the so-called “use it or lose it” policy’s possible impact in Georgia. While 107,000 people may seem like a small number in a state with a population of 10.4 million, elections have been decided by far smaller margins. For instance, the 2016 presidential election was decided in favor of Donald Trump by a total of 77,744 votes in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Using someone’s decision not to vote as the trigger to remove that person from the rolls is a highly controversial — yet legal — tactic that voting rights advocates say is a potential tool for voter suppression. And its use is on the rise.