A young woman learned her name was no longer on the voter rolls in Georgia. Ironically, she discovered this while training as a canvasser for new voters. Since registering and casting her first ballot in 2008, she hadn’t returned to the polls, and under the new “use it or lose it” rule, the system purged her registration. A dentist in Macon received a letter from the secretary of state, warning him that he was at risk of being labeled an “inactive voter” for changing addresses, not voting or not responding to election-related mail. None of that was true, he said: He’d participated in every Georgia election in the past 40 years and had lived in his home for 30. A man was moved to a “pending” list of voters and told he had to prove his identity before he could cast a ballot, because the clerk registering him had missed the hyphen in his first name. It took a three-way phone call between him, a team of election lawyers and the Fulton County Board of Elections to secure his status as an eligible voter.
These individuals called the New Georgia Project, the voter rights group for which I serve as chairman, and we sent in a phalanx of legal experts to defend their rights. But not everyone is so lucky, and these are not rare and random instances of people accidentally falling through the cracks. The system is functioning exactly as it was designed. They’re the consequence of the policies pursued by Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp (who, like a boxer refereeing his own bout, oversees the election in which he’s running).
My beloved state of Georgia has followed seemingly every strategy in the voter-suppression playbook, like partisan gerrymandering and closing polling locations. It even charged a poll worker with a felony for helping someone use a voting machine. Moreover, the state has pursued aggressive voter purges, removing 1.6 million names from the rolls between the 2012 and 2016 elections, and another 670,000 last year. More than 100,000 of these were due to the new “use it or lose it” standard. Anyone sincerely concerned with the health of our democracy, whose voter turnout trails most developed countries, would invite citizens into the process, not punish them for being unable to make it to the polls for two seasons.