Lawsuit Would Force State and Local Counties to Enroll Eligible Voters
ATLANTA AND WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A lawsuit was filed today in Fulton County, Georgia Superior Court against Georgia Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, and five county boards of election on behalf of Third Sector Development, the parent organization of the New Georgia Project (NGP), the national NAACP, and the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP.
The lawsuit seeks a writ of mandamus to require the Secretary of State and county boards of election to promptly process voter registration applications submitted by eligible voters in time for these citizens to cast a regular ballot in the midterm elections. Early voting begins on Monday, October 13.
Today’s lawsuit was brought by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), the law firm Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P, the law firm Sandler, Reiff, Lamb, Rosenstein & Birkenstock, P.C. and attorneys for the NAACP.
From March to September 2014, the non-partisan NGP undertook a massive voter registration drive that resulted in it submitting over 86,000 applications. Young people of color registering to vote for the first time completed the majority of those applications. But as of September 4, 2014, more than 40,000 voters, most of whom areminorities,who applied to register through an NGP drive are missing from state voter rolls. The state and counties have neither explained why the applications are unaccounted for, nor have they contacted these voters about their delayed or missing applications, as required by Georgia law. The Georgia State Conference of the NAACP also conducted a separate voter registration drive and submitted thousands of voter registration applications.
“We hoped litigation would not be necessary, but with early voting beginning next week, eligible Georgians are dangerously close to not being allowed to vote in this election. All eligible registrants should be processed immediately; provisional voting is not an acceptable option,” shared Representative Stacey Abrams, founder of Third Sector Development.
“This failure to process voter registrations is a travesty on the part of the State of Georgia so close to an election,” said Lawyers’ Committee President and Executive DirectorBarbara Arnwine.“It is unacceptable that eligible voters who were a step closer to exercising their fundamental right to vote stand to be denied by the state. America’s young voters should be excited about voting, not worried that they will become disenfranchised before even arriving to the polls.”
After the 2012 election, Secretary Kemp himself acknowledged that Fulton County experienced major problems with its voter registration rolls. Kemp said, “[I]t appears to me that we’ve had people [in Fulton County] that were disenfranchised that never even got a vote that were not properly registered even though they made the deadline.” In the past week, Kemp’s office rebuffed repeated requests to meet in person to discuss the numerous voter registration applications that appear to remain unprocessed or delayed. Secretary Kemp has rolled out a new version of a voter registration processing system utilized by the counties that matches applicants with the Department of Driver Services database. This is the first major election using the new system. It is unclear whether this new system is part of the processing problem.
“The Plaintiffs in this lawsuit are determined to prevent the major problems that occurred in 2012 from recurring in Fulton County or in other counties this year,” said Bob Kengle, co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee.“Processing voter registration applications in a timely way and registering eligible voters who have submitted valid applications are the duties of the Secretary and county election officials. There are strong indications that they are shirking this obligation at the expense of thousands of citizens’ voting rights, and there is no other option but a lawsuit to protect those rights.”
“The tens of thousands of Georgians that NGP has registered are thrilled to exercise their right to vote but their registration status hangs in limbo,” said Dara Lindenbaum, senior associate at Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock, P.C. “We are determined ensure that these eligible voters can exercise their rights and have their voices heard.”
“In the lawsuit, we are asking the court to order the defendants to carry out their statutory duties to promptly process all pending voter applications, provide notice to applicants whose information is missing in sufficient time for them to submit missing information, and add eligible and qualified applicants to the official list of registrants,” said V. Robert Denham, Jr., managing partner at Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P.
Georgia voters who are confused or concerned about the status of their voter registration application should contact the non-partisan Election Protection national coalition’s 1-866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) hotline. Election Protection is working with the NGP to help those who have registered to vote in Georgia but have not received confirmation voter registration cards.
Dr. Francys Johnson, president of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, stated “We will not sit on the sidelines, we will not watch – we are taking action.”