Groups seek help for Georgia voters flagged as noncitizens
ATLANTA (AP) — Civil rights groups are asking a judge to help ensure that eligible Georgia voters whose registration has been flagged for potential citizenship issues can vote if they provide proof of citizenship at a polling place.
The groups filed a lawsuit earlier this month challenging Georgia’s “exact match” verification process, which requires that identification information on voter registration applications precisely match information already on file with the Georgia Department of Driver Services or the Social Security Administration.
Applicants whose information does not match are put on pending status and have 26 months to fix the problem before the application is canceled.
The lawsuit says the “exact-match” policy has been found to “disproportionately and negatively impact the ability of voting-eligible African-American, Latino and Asian-American applicants to register to vote.”
Some mismatches are triggered by variations in a name, like a dropped hyphen, or because of data entry errors. Other people are flagged as potential noncitizens, often because the state driver’s license database hasn’t been updated to reflect their naturalization.
The lawsuit was filed against Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the state’s top elections official and the Republican candidate for governor who’s locked in a tight, nationally watched race against Democrat Stacey Abrams. Abrams is trying to become the nation’s first black female governor.
The civil rights groups are asking U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross to order the state to take immediate steps for the Nov. 6 midterm elections to reduce the burden on would-be voters flagged as potential noncitizens.
The judge heard arguments Monday from lawyers for the groups and for the state and said she would rule quickly.
If would-be voters haven’t resolved their pending status by the time they go to vote, Kemp’s office has said they can bring a photo ID with them to vote — which all Georgia voters are required to do — and rectify the match issue in person. Then they’ll be able to cast a regular ballot.
But those who are flagged as potential noncitizens must bring proof of citizenship that has to be verified by a deputy registrar before the person can cast a regular ballot. If there is no deputy registrar present at a polling place, the poll manager can send the proof of citizenship to a deputy registrar electronically so the flag can be cleared and then the person can cast a regular ballot, said Cristina Correia, a lawyer for the state.
If the citizenship proof can’t be sent electronically or a deputy registrar can’t be reached, the poll manager can give the voter a provisional ballot that will be marked with confirmation that sufficient proof of citizenship was provided and the ballot will be counted with no further action required by the voter, Correia said.
“Nobody is here to suggest we should make it harder for newly naturalized citizens to vote, quite the opposite,” Correia said.
But Julie Houk, a lawyer for the civil rights groups, said that’s not what’s happening. She told the story of a recently naturalized citizen who went to a Fulton County early voting location where there was no deputy registrar present. The poll manager didn’t send the man’s citizenship proof to a deputy registrar to clear the flag and he wasn’t offered a chance to vote on a provisional ballot to be counted as a regular ballot, Houk said.
“This is insane, your honor,” Houk said. “These people should be able to vote. They shouldn’t have to face these hurdles.”
Houk asked the judge to order the state to allow regular poll workers to verify proof of citizenship, arguing that state law doesn’t require that verification to be done by a deputy registrar. Lawyers for the groups also asked in a court filing that Kemp’s office be required to train poll workers to confirm citizenship status and to post a list of acceptable documents to prove citizenship.