In the weeks leading up to the 2012 election, Helen Ho, an attorney who has worked to register newly naturalized immigrants to vote in the Southeast, made an alarming discovery. Some new citizens that her group, then known as the Asian American Legal Advocacy Center, had tried to register in Georgia were still not on the rolls. Early voting had begun and polling places were challenging and even turning away new citizens seeking to vote for the first time. After more than a week of seeking answers from the office of Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, which oversees elections, AALAC issued a sharply worded open letter on October 31 demanding that Georgia take immediate action to ensure the new citizens could vote. Two days later Ho received her response. In a letter, Brian Kemp, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, offered few specific assurances about the new voters in question and informed Ho that his office was launching an investigation into how AALAC registered these would-be voters. Kemp’s office asked that AALAC turn over certain records of its registration efforts, citing “potential legal concerns surrounding AALAC’s photocopying and public disclosure of voter registration applications.”
Ho was aghast. “Our genuine desire was to help the secretary of state clear these people through to vote, so it was interesting that their response was to investigate us,” she told me. “I’m not going to lie: I was shocked, I was scared.”
The investigation targeted her group not for any voter fraud, per se, but for more technical issues, such as whether canvassers had people’s explicit, written consent to photocopy their registration forms before mailing the originals to the elections office. Kemp’s investigation into AALAC lasted nearly two-and-a-half years. This past March 12th, it ended with no finding of violations.