Georgia Must Release Voter Registration Data

     (CN) – A federal judge ordered Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp to release more detailed records explaining how the state decides to reject applicants trying to register to vote.
     U.S. District Judge William Duffey Jr.’s ruling on Tuesday is a victory for Project Vote, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit waging an ongoing fight for records detailing Georgia’s process for reviewing voter registration applications and the reasons why applications are rejected.
     Project Vote has been seeking the records since May 2014, and finally sued, it said, after Kemp responded to its request with incomplete database records.
     The NAACP and others have accused Georgia of frustrating the minority vote by failing to promptly determine the eligibility of thousands of black, Latino and Asian voters. In 2014, the organization sued the state, contending the delays could potentially deprive minorities of their right to vote in that year’s elections.
     The Georgia chapter of the NAACP said at the time that not only did the state fail to process the applications, but it failed to notify applicants, as required by law, if there were discrepancies, such as missing information, in their paperwork.
     In the separate Project Vote case, Judge Duffey said Tuesday that the threatened injury over caused by blocking the release of certain voter registration records outweighs the harm to the state, which had sought to dismiss the case citing privacy concerns and the costs, monetary and in worker’s time, associated with producing the records.
     “As Defendant admits, unlike other Federal statutes, ‘the [National Voter Registration Act] has no express language permitting a state agency to charge the requestor the costs of producing whatever information is requested,'” Duffey wrote.
     “The absence of a cost provision in the public inspection provision of the NVRA and its inclusion in other record disclosure laws suggests Congress intended States to shoulder the burden about which Defendant now complains,” he said.
     Duffey said the state did not have to release every record sought by Project Vote at this time, but he carved out a very narrow category of records exempt from his order those that reflect the “disposition” of letters and notices sent to applicants.
     Duffey called the plaintiff’s request for these records “ambiguous,” and said without more information, “the Court is unable to determine whether this ‘disposition’ information is required to be disclosed under Section 8(i) of the Act.
     Section 8 spells out federal requirements for how states administer voter registration.
     It includes rules on the date by which valid voter registration applications must be accepted and eligible persons registered; rules for changing a registrant’s address information; rules for removing names from the voter registration list; and the administration of a uniform, nondiscriminatory voter registration list maintenance program that complies with the Voting Rights Act.
     It also requires states to set a voter registration cutoff for federal elections of no more than 30 days before the election, and requires state election officials to notify each voter registration applicant as to whether their application has been accepted or rejected.
     A spokeswoman for Kemp said he would comply with the order’s Oct. 7 deadline which comes just ahead of Georgia’s statewide Oct. 11 voter registration deadline.
     Kemp has consistently maintained his office was cooperative and transparent with Project Vote over the records, and that his staff always acted in good faith in dealing with Project Vote.
     The state is also facing another voting rights suit, which claims Georgia’s strict method for adding new voters to election rolls threatens to disenfranchise tens of thousands of minorities this fall.
     In a complaint filed in the federal court in Atlanta on Sept 14, 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.

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