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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)