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Report: 198K+ Georgia voters 'wrongly purged' from rolls

According to the report, of the 313,243 Georgia voters purged from the rolls a year ago, 198,351 had not moved from their addresses and should not have been purged.

ATLANTA — A newly-released report said that it found that more than 198,000 voters were wrongly removed from Georgia voter rolls late last year because the state believed, incorrectly, that they no longer had valid addresses.

The ACLU of Georgia released the results of that report, conducted by the Palast Investigative Fund, titled Georgia Voter Roll Purge Errors, on Sept. 1.

According to the report, which examined the state's 2019 voter purge, of the 313,243 inactive Georgia voters the state tried to contact, 198,351 -- 63% of them -- had not moved away, as the state believed, and should not have been removed from the rolls. 

The report by Greg Palast and his Palast Investigative Fund said he hired several experts in "advanced address list hygiene," including a firm that Amazon uses to verify addresses, and the experts used several data points to cross-reference the names of each voter who was dropped from the rolls. 

The method, which Palast said is an industry-standard in residential address verification, is, he said, a much more thorough way to determine actual changes of address. Palast said this is in contrast to the state's maintenance, which relies mainly on "snail mail" sent to the voters' last-known addresses, and the return of those confirmation mailers, which Palast said can be unreliable. 

Palast has been looking into the state's various voter purges since 2013.

“It’s real simple, Georgians shouldn’t be removed from the voter rolls on the basis of false information," he told 11Alive Wednesday.

According to the Georgia Secretary of State's office, the state compares its voter rolls with the National Change of Address registry every two years and sends confirmation mailersm, to ensure that Georgia voters who have moved are registered to vote in the correct precinct and county. 

If a voter has moved within the same county, the voter’s address will be automatically updated in the state voter registration system and they will remain registered and active. If a voter has moved to a new county, they must update their home address within 30 days either with the NCOA confirmation card or through Georgia’s Online Voter Registration System. If an out-of-county-mover does not update their address within 30 days, they will be changed to “inactive” in the state voter registration system. 

Inactive voters can still vote (and thereby change their status to “active”) according to the Secretary of State's office, but if they do not vote or have any other contact with their county elections office for two general cycles (4 years), their registration will be canceled, and they must re-register in order to continue to vote.

"This verification is part of the regular list maintenance of voter rolls required by federal and state law," the Secretary of State's office said previously.

A registered voter becomes vulnerable to being dropped from voter rolls if that voter files a change of address request with the U.S. Postal Service, official election mail is returned undeliverable, or the person fails to vote in the previous, two general elections, or has had no contact with elections officials for five years prior to that. They can also be removed by not responding within 30 days to an address confirmation letter mailed by the county voter registrar.

Palast said independent experts have concluded that "a card returned as undeliverable," or a card not returned, "does not, in and of itself, indicate that a voter has permanently moved residence." 

"Many cards were returned because they were missing apartment addresses. Again, this is no indication the voter has made a registration-canceling move," the report pointed out. "This is the main source of the state’s extreme error rate."

Further, the report charged that relying solely on those mailers can lead to younger voters, urban and low-income renters - who are more likely to be voters of color - and citizens who speak English as a second language being purged at higher rates.

The Secretary of State's office said the provisions of verifying the addresses of inactive voters have been upheld in the courts, have been in place for years, have been verified accurate each time they've been used, and that the "use it or lose it" standard of keeping only active voters on the rolls goes back, in Georgia, for decades, to when Democrats were the dominant political party in the state.

Andrea Young with the ACLU of Georgia said the state is not equipped to verify addresses accurately based on its current system.

“The process being used by the State of Georgia is both more expensive and less accurate than an industry-standard for list maintenance," she said. "The effect of their actions is that hundreds of thousands of Georgia citizens who were duly registered to vote may show up on election day and find that their names are not on the rolls."

The Secretary of State's office said purges such as this are required by law in order to protect elections from certain forms of voter fraud. The office said its methods of determining accurate address for voters is thorough and rigorous, and it disputed the findings in Palast's report, saying that the voters the state purged - even if they may still live at those same addresses - still hadn't voted in four years or longer and were considered "inactive."

"It is unfortunate that the ACLU (gives credence to) a known Stacey Abrams shill to conduct ‘research,’ especially when there are so many credible options on the left (to do this type of research)," Georgia's Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said. "Greg Palast has been discredited by many across the political spectrum. I welcome the ACLU to conduct a real study with a credible source, not someone who is spreading disinformation to shill for his book."

Palast laughed at that claim.

"We caught them - that's why they're upset," he told 11Alive. "They say that Stacey Abrams has praised my work and cited my work, well so has Fox News.... If you're taking away citizens' right to vote, you'd better make sure that your information (such as whether the voter's address is still accurate) is correct.... Federal law says you cannot remove voters for failing to vote, it's your right to vote, or not vote, in America."

11Alive reached out to Fair Fight, founded by Abrams, about the report, and a spokesperson declined to comment and deferred to the ACLU. 

The ACLU of Georgia encouraged members of the Georgia General Assembly--when they re-convene in January--to "rectify this egregious error" following the release of the results, to bring the state in line with Federal law. The pivotal 2020 election, though, is just over two months away.

Meanwhile, Young is urging all Georgians to go to the Secretary of State's website and check to see if they're still registered, and re-register, if necessary, by the Oct. 5 deadline, so they can vote in the November elections.

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