Georgia, a state where allegations of voter suppression dominated discussion of last year’s governor race, will conduct another purge of its voter rolls, the secretary of state’s office announced Monday.
This newest purge targets those who have not voted for several years—ostensibly because they have moved out of state—and could cause 330,000 voter registrations to be canceled.
Elections officials have justified it as a measure to clean up the rolls and simplify the election process. The state is obligated under a new state law to notify voters before their registrations are canceled. Officials said that the state would mail out the notifications early in November to an inactive voter’s last known address, and those voters would need to respond within 30 days (by returning the included form, re-registering online, or mailing in a separate paper registration form) or be removed from the rolls in December.
Those who are “inactive” under this purge did not vote or update their registrations in the past five years. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, those who did vote but had their mail from county election offices returned as undeliverable could also be included in the category.
It’s true that many people who leave a state and register to vote elsewhere do not alert their previous state to their move. One researcher in support of the purge told the Journal-Constitution that the number of registrations the state would remove is less than the number of people who would have moved out of state in the past couple of years.
But voter rights groups, such as 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams’ group Fair Fight, contend that the effort will inevitably include a number of people who simply have not exercised their right to vote in a number of years. Even if the state successfully reaches the voters with mail, it still places the burden on the voters to return their cancelation notice or re-register with the state—enough of an inconvenience that it’s essentially guaranteed that some percentage of eligible in-state voters won’t find their names at their polling places at a later election. Georgians could also be removed from the inactive list by voting in the Nov. 5 election, but this year’s election is an off-year one, and many voters who will vote in the 2020 presidential election will likely stay home.
Critics also raise the possibility that the elections officials could make mistakes: When Ohio sent out a list of names it planned to cleanse from its voter rolls over the summer, it found that roughly 20 percent—or about 40,000 people—had been mistakenly labeled as inactive voters.
Georgia has a history of conflict over voter registration. In July 2017, the state canceled more than 500,000 voter registrations in the largest single voter purge in U.S. history, according to the Journal-Constitution. If Georgia loses 300,000 voters, that would mean a 4 percent reduction of the state’s voter rolls. Abrams, who has alleged that canceled or missing registrations (as well as long lines, faulty voting equipment, and other issues) kept residents from voting, lost the gubernatorial race last year to Republican Brian Kemp by less than 2 percentage points.