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Analysis

A Win for Voters in Georgia

After legal action by the Brennan Center, a federal court said Georgia must take several steps to protect voters who cast provisional ballots.

  • Makeda Yohannes
November 13, 2018

In a win for voting rights in Georgia, a federal court on Monday ordered the state to take several steps to protect voters who had to cast provisional ballots because of registration problems. But the fight isn’t over yet.

The order came in response to a lawsuit brought by the Brennan Center for Justice and Paul, Weiss, Rifkin, Wharton, and Garrison, on behalf of Common Cause Georgia. Common Cause Georgia sued after an announcement by Secretary of State Brian Kemp, made shortly before the election, drew attention to vulnerabilities in the state’s voter registration system.

Immediately, voting rights experts raised concern over Kemp not only knowingly maintaining an unsecure voter registration database but also publicizing vulnerabilities in the system just two days before the election. The lawsuit emphasizes that one possible effect of a hack would be the unlawful removal of registered voters from the state voter rolls, significantly increasing the use of provisional ballots all across the state. In an effort to curtail any damage to Georgians’ fundamental right to cast ballots that are counted, the suit requested a modified provisional balloting counting system.

Under Georgia law, a voter’s provisional ballot is not counted unless elections officials affirmatively determine that the voter is duly registered within three days of an election. Common Cause Georgia argued that this was an insufficient process and asked that the court delay the certification of the election results in order to allow for a more complete assessment of the eligibility of voters who cast provisional ballots. In issuing a temporary restraining order against the secretary of state last night, the court agreed, finding that there was good reason to be concerned about the deletion of registrations with a threat of irreparable harm to voters. 

The temporary restraining order requires that:

(1)  The secretary of state must establish and publicize a secure and free-access hotline or website for provisional ballot voters. On this webpage, voters have access to information to determine whether their provisional ballots were counted and, if not, the reason why. The order directs counties to publicize it on their websites as well.

(2)  The secretary of state may not certify the results of the election before November 16th at 5 p.m.

(3)  In the interim, the secretary of state's office either has to review the eligibility of voters issued provisional ballots due to registration issues itself or to direct the counties to conduct that review. In either case, the review has to include “all available registration documentation,” including information provided by voters themselves and audit trails that show changes made to registrations in the electronic database.

Kemp himself, a Republican, is narrowly leading in his race for governor against Democrat Stacey Abrams.

No Georgian should be disenfranchised due to mistakes in the voter registration database or a haphazard provisional ballot counting system. In an election cycle marked with pervasive voting problems, yesterday’s ruling affirms that the right to vote is fundamental for all Americans.

Documents from the lawsuit are available here.

(Image: Jessica McGowan/Getty)