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Georgia restores 22,000 purged voter registrations

December 19, 2019 GMT
FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2019 file photo, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger answers questions after the Georgia House passed a bill to buy a new election system that includes a paper ballot. Georgia election officials are set to begin a mass purge of inactive voters from the state’s voting rolls on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in October released a list of over 313,000 voters whose registrations were at risk of being cancelled, about 4% of the state’s total registered voters. Those voters were mailed notices in November and had 30 days to respond in order to keep their registration intact. (Bob Andres//Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2019 file photo, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger answers questions after the Georgia House passed a bill to buy a new election system that includes a paper ballot. Georgia election officials are set to begin a mass purge of inactive voters from the state’s voting rolls on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in October released a list of over 313,000 voters whose registrations were at risk of being cancelled, about 4% of the state’s total registered voters. Those voters were mailed notices in November and had 30 days to respond in order to keep their registration intact. (Bob Andres//Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)

ATLANTA (AP) — After purging more than 300,000 voters from the rolls, Georgia election officials restored roughly 22,000 of them Thursday, citing an error in the way their voting history had been screened.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office said the issue stemmed from the way the process of maintaining the voter list was carried out in 2015.

The affected voters either voted or had some other type of contact with the voter registration system in early 2012, but essentially weren’t given credit for it.

Lawyers for the state said during a court hearing Thursday afternoon that the issue was brought to their attention by lawyers for Fair Fight Action, a voting rights advocacy group founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams, which had filed an emergency request earlier this week asking the court to stop part of the purge.

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Raffensperger’s office on Monday purged 308,753 voter registrations that were deemed inactive.

“When the list-maintenance process was begun in June of 2015, it searched for the registrations of people who had not voted or had any other type of contact with their county elections office (like submitting an updated registration, requesting an absentee ballot, or signing a petition) since before June 1, 2012, and classified them as inactive voters,” a statement from the secretary of state’s office says.

Walter Jones, spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, says the search should have looked for registrations of people who had not voted or had other contact since Jan. 1, 2012, rather than June 1. “Somebody did fiscal years instead of calendar years,” Jones told The Associated Press.

The statement from the secretary of state’s office says that instead of being purged, the 22,000 people affected will be moved back to inactive status, giving them more time there before their registration is canceled.

Raffensperger’s office has defended the list maintenance, saying it makes the administration of elections smoother and helps guard against voter fraud.

In the motion filed earlier this week, Fair Fight said that over 120,000 people are on the purge list “solely because they have not voted or had any other statutorily-defined ‘contact’ with election officials in the past seven years and have not responded to two notices seeking confirmation of their current address.” The organization argued that a new law allows voters nine years of inactivity before being removed — compared to seven years under the old law. They want the judge to restore any of those voters who weren’t among the 22,000 already restored Thursday.

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Lawyers for the state argue that the people in question were placed on the inactive list before the new law took effect. The law was not written to retroactively add years to their time on the inactive list before their registration is canceled, state lawyers argued.

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones listened to arguments from both sides. He seemed unsure whether the question even falls under his jurisdiction, as it may be asking for an interpretation of a state law.

Jones didn’t make any decisions on the issue Thursday. But he did ask the state to work with Fair Fight to resolve the registration status of more than 500 people the group identified who live in a jurisdiction that has a special election January and whose status was canceled earlier this week.