The Blog

Voting Inaccessibility in Georgia

Posted on February 02, 2018

By: Amy Pan

In today’s increasingly dynamic, modern, and progressive era, one might be surprised to learn that accessibility to the voting booth is still not a reality for some. Unfortunately, the state of Georgia is not immune to this situation. Georgia’s experience with limiting accessibility to the polls dates back to when the state passed one of the nation’s first voter ID laws in 2005. The law, implemented in 2007, required voters to show photo ID at their polling location [1]. More specifically, according to the Secretary of State’s office, voters must present one of six forms of identification: a valid state or federal government issued photo ID, a Georgia Driver’s License, a valid employee photo ID from any branch, department, agency, or entity of the local or federal government, a U.S. passport, military photo ID, or tribal photo ID [2].

However, there are also some restrictive voting policies that are less straightforward. In September 2016, shortly before the Presidential Election, civil rights groups—including the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Asian Americans for Advancing Justice—sued the Secretary of State’s office over a policy that required exact matches on driver’s licenses or Social Security records. Because of this policy, even a misplaced hyphen or character typo led to complete voting disqualification [3]. A settlement was reached, under which Georgia agreed to no longer automatically cancel voter registration applications where the information on the application fails to exactly match the applicant’s data on the Georgia driver’s license or Social Security databases.

Following this victory for progressive groups, however, several metro-Atlanta counties proceeded to remove hundreds of thousands of names from the voter rolls. These purge notices were sent to registered voters who had moved within their same county, an act that directly violated the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 [4]. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that in summer 2017, DeKalb County alone mailed 33,467 notices, Cobb County 29,588, and Fulton County more than 48,900. This totaled to 383,487 purge notices, with all counties affirming that they were operating under the behest of the Secretary of State [5]. This move coincided with the submission of shared voter data to President Trump’s federal commission on alleged “voter fraud.”

It would be impossible to evaluate Georgia’s voting policies without examining their effects on several key stakeholders. Perhaps most obviously, hurdles in the voting process makes it harder for all voters to participate in the democratic process. However, it is minority, low-income voters that are hit the hardest. The spring 2016 lawsuit emphasized that out of 34,874 people whose applications were canceled between July 2013 and July 2016, 64 percent were black, compared with 14 percent who were white [3].

While ID laws seem neutral on the surface, they can also disadvantage low-income voters who, first, may not have a state-issued ID, and second, lack the time, money, or means of transportation to apply for one. Moreover, there might be a political motive behind the enactment of these laws. According to the University of Chicago, “Democratic turnout drops by an estimated 8.8 percentage points in primary elections when strict photo identification laws are in place. By comparison, the predicted drop for Republicans is only 3.6 percentage points [6].” Additionally, clearing the voter rolls and sending purge notices to voters who have moved can have the effect of confusing voters with bureaucratic obstacles.

On the other hand, proponents of voter ID laws and other forms of vote regulation argue that the policies are necessary to combat voter fraud and maintain the integrity of elections. Many GOP politicians, including Secretary of State Brian Kemp, emphasize that the state has a responsibility to protect the validity of the vote and that asking for a photo ID is not a burdensome or unreasonable requirement. Proponents also advocate biennial purge notices as essential to maintaining a clean voter roll and preventing duplication and confusion. On another note, it is important to consider that, though strict voting laws have been proven to have a suppression effect, there has been no evidence to indicate that these policies were enacted with that specific intention, nor that they are definitively tailored to target minorities.

At the end of the day, it is clear that voting accessibility has evolved into a deeply partisan issue, not only in the state of Georgia, but around the nation. Individual voters have an interest in protecting their rights to participate in the democratic process, but at the same time, the state has an interest in maintaining the integrity and security of elections. If any changes to the current policy were to be made, it would certainly require balancing the concerns of voters against the equally valid—but oftentimes competing—objectives of the state government.

 

[1] Torres, K. (2017, June 30). Georgia to share data with Trump commission on voter fraud. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved from http://www.ajc.com/news/state–regional-govt–politics/georgia-share-data-with-trump-commission-voter-fraud/g1cIww5anWQoeiDGbTwa9K/

[2] Georgia Voter Identification Requirements. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://sos.ga.gov/index.php/elections/georgia_voter_identification_requirements2

[3] Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, Inc., and Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda v. Brian Kemp. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia Gainesville Division (Ga. 2016). Retrieved from https://lawyerscommittee.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/2016-09-13-GA-NAACP-Kemp-Complaint-FINAL.pdf

[4] Young, S. (2017, July 11). Letter to Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Retrieved from https://www.acluga.org/sites/default/files/voter_purge_ltr_7_11_17.pdf

[5] Torres, K. (2017, July 23). Georgia effort to clean up state’s voter rolls underway. Politically Georgia. Retrieved from http://www.myajc.com/news/state–regional-govt–politics/georgia-effort-clean-state-voter-rolls-underway/rpAkxxDXJ2LlaOXXJfioxH/

[6] Hajnal, Z., Lajevardi, N., & Nielson, L. (2017).  Voter Identification Laws and the Suppression of Minority Votes. The Journal of Politics 79 (2), 363-379.