The state of Georgia struck more than 300,000 names off the state’s voter roll this week, amounting to 4 percent of the state’s registered voters, after a federal judge allowed the state to carry out the purge the Republican-controlled state says is aimed at ensuring an accurate and fair election. Georgia’s history with handling its voter rolls, however, has left many skeptical about the motive behind the removal of hundreds of thousands of names, its impact on minority voters, and whether it could prove pivotal in 2020.
State officials have said the move aims to remove voters who have died or moved away from the state, allowing it to deploy resources appropriately, but a recent Georgia state law also controversially removes 120,000 voters due to “inactivity” since the 2012 election. The so-called “use it or lose it” provision prompted a legal challenge Monday from the voting rights organization founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams which argued the move unfairly targeted voters that haven’t shown up at the polls in two presidential election cycles or responded to mailings from the state government posted to voters’ last known address. U.S. District Judge Steve Jones allowed the state to carry out the removal of voter registrations, but will hear arguments in the case Thursday to determine if a portion of the registrations should be restored.
The GOP’s slimming margins in the state have made the state’s efforts that smack of voter suppression potentially pivotal; in the 2018 gubernatorial race Abrams, then the Democratic candidate, pushed back aggressively against suppression efforts by then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp who beat Abrams by just 55,000 votes. Georgia’s Republican-controlled state government has faced criticism for its handling of its voters rolls after an American Public Media investigation reported a mass cull of “inactive” voters. The removal of large swaths of voters for inactivity disproportionately impacts minority communities that are more likely to lean to the left. “In July 2017, Kemp’s agency led a historic single-day voter purge, cutting more than a half million people from the rolls, and an estimated 107,000 of them were removed because they hadn’t voted in prior elections,” the Washington Post notes. “Then, in October 2018, a month before the election, Kemp held up 53,000 registrations due to the state’s strict and controversial ‘exact match’ law, which flagged applications over a misplaced letter or dropped hyphen in a last name.”