In the wake of the 2018 campaign season, Georgia’s Secretary of State agreed to yet another lawsuit settlement and has instructed local elections officials to automatically update the address of any registered voter who has moved within the same county in the last 2 years.
This settlement was reached nearly a year after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia filed suit against the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections on behalf of Stacey Hopkins, a registered Georgia voter. Mrs. Hopkins was just one of nearly 160,000 Georgia voters that were sent notices stating they would be listed as “inactive” (one of the first steps in being removed from the voter rolls) if they didn’t respond to the notice within 30 days. These registered voters were receiving notices because they had moved (within the same county) and didn’t update their address with the Georgia Board of Registrars.
You may be asking yourself how these individuals received the notifications despite having the wrong address filed with the board of registrars. The answer is rather simple: they filed a change of address form with the United States Postal Service (USPS).
Moreover, this entire dispute was centered around two of Georgia’s election laws: the list of registered electors statute (GA Code § 21-2-211) and the comparison of change of address statute (GA Code § 21-2-233). According to GA Code § 21-2-211, Georgia’s “Secretary of State shall establish and maintain a list of all eligible and qualified registered electors”—the key word being maintain. While the Secretary of State’s office is obligated to maintain an accurate list of all eligible and qualified registered voters, it is also obligated (by federal statute) to have safeguards established to ensure that eligible voters are not removed in error.
This is where the comparison of change of address statute (GA Code § 21-2-233) enters the dispute.
In accordance with GA Code § 21-2-233, the official list of eligible voters may (at the discretion of the Secretary of State) be compared to the USPS’s change of address records. Even though the Secretary of State’s office is not statutorily required to compare its records with the USPS, this simple safeguard does help ensure accuracy of the official list of voters while concurrently reducing the burden placed on voters.
While there might be legitimate arguments against the use of GA Code § 21-2-233, one certainty has arisen from this lawsuit – this lawsuit ensured that the registration status of nearly 160,000 Georgia voters changed from “inactive” to “active.”
Furthermore, this lawsuit and the convenient timing of its settlement raises a couple of key questions: (1) was the settlement just an attempt to abate this ensuing drama before politicians began their campaigns; and (2) what will happen after the November elections? If history does repeat itself (as it so often does), it will only be a matter of time before new bureaucratic obstacles are placed between the registered voters of Georgia and the polls.