Database ‘Match’ Rule Harming Minority Voters

     ATLANTA (CN) — Georgia’s strict method for adding new voters to election rolls threatens to disenfranchise tens of thousands of minorities this fall, a lawsuit filed Wednesday by several voting rights groups claims.
     In a complaint filed in the federal court in Atlanta, the plaintiffs claim that since July 2013, Georgia has failed to process more than 42,000 voter registration applications because the personal information provided didn’t precisely match existing information in state-maintained databases.
     According to the complaint, the protocol requires that the identifying information of would-be voters must exactly match the records of the Georgia Department of Driver Services and the Social Security Administration.
     The plaintiffs, which include the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta and the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda, say over 86 percent of those whose applications weren’t processed between July 2013 and today were non-white, despite the fact white made up nearly half of those who sought to register during that period.
     The 56-page complaint alleges that Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the First and Fourteenth Amendments by implementing the “strict database matching criteria” policy in 2010, and in enforcing it ever since.
     “Mismatches between databases can result from innocuous mistakes such as omitting a hyphen or initial, and frequently result from no fault of the voter whatsoever,” the complaint says. “Examples include data entry errors, typos, misreading of imperfect handwriting by elections officials and computer glitches within the State’s registration system.”
     The plaintiffs say mismatches can also occur when a woman’s married name is on her registration application but her maiden name is listed on her driver’s license or Social Security records. Other mismatches involve applicants with an accent mark or hyphen in their name.
     The plaintiffs assert that prospective minority voters “are not allowed to cast a valid ballot unless they overcome a series of burdensome bureaucratic hurdles that deprive them of their fundamental right to vote, unless they happen to fall within a couple of narrow and arbitrary exceptions. Those who cannot overcome these hurdles are denied the right to vote.”
     Notification letters are sent to voter applicants if an application is considered incomplete, requiring them to respond by a certain date to verify their identity.
     “That date is apparently predicated on a ‘forty day clock’ that begins running when the letter is issued by the ENET system, as opposed to the date the letter is physically mailed to the applicant,” the complaint says.
     The application is canceled if an applicant doesn’t respond.
     A notification is also sent to the local registrar, but the notifications and letters do not specify what information failed to match in the Social Security Administration’s database, the plaintiffs say.
     “When compared to the overall voter registration applicant pool, applications submitted by minority voters are disproportionately cancelled,” the complaint states, adding that minority voters are “more likely to have unique and non-traditional names.”
     The plaintiffs say the Georgia Secretary of State’s office has failed to respond to concerns voiced by minority community members.
     They are seeking a declaration that Kemp’s voter registration protocol violates the Civil Rights Act of 1965, and injunctive relief requiring the discontinuation of cancelling voter registration applications of voters with mismatched information that wasn’t fixed in a 40-day period.
     The plaintiffs are also asking the federal court to allow voters whose applications have not been processed or were cancelled to cast a ballot if they present proper identification.
     Representatives of the Georgia Secretary of State’s office could not be immediately reached for comment.

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