Civil rights groups force Georgia to drop voter suppression rule
Georgia residents participating in Moral Monday March for voting and civil rights. /Moral Monday

After three years of using it to suppress voter rights, the GOP-controlled State of Georgia has recently agreed to stop implementing an “exact match” rule. The right wing secretary of state, who had imposed the rule in the first place, caved in to a wide-ranging coalition of civil rights groups after the Georgia NAACP filed a lawsuit.

According to the WhoWhatWhy newsletter, ‘In 2013 … Georgia’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office implemented a rule that required potential voters to submit registration information that exactly matched, character-for-character, information in the state’s databases.”

The upshot was that the state failed to process some 42,000 applications. Eighty percent of those rejected were African Americans, Latinos or Asian-Americans.

WhoWhatWhy explains that “Many African-American, Latino and Asian American names bear pronunciation punctuation, which may not be recognized by different databases. This includes accent marks, apostrophes, and hyphens which tend to be essential parts of such names, but if a government database can only utilize alphanumeric characters,” the information sent in by applicants and their names in the database appear to be different.”

When in doubt – or whenever a Georgia bureaucrat felt “in doubt,” applicants were rejected.

“This corresponded,” says WhoWhatWhy “with a nationwide effort by Republicans to curb voting rights in potential swing states. With the majority of those affected by these changes Asian, African-American, Latino, poor, homeless, and young — principal voting demographics for the Democrats — these changes appear to be an attempt to ‘tilt the playing field’ in light of population shifts.

“The consequences of this is enough to swing an election.”

When the exact match rule was first imposed, a large coalition of civil rights groups sued the State of Georgia on behalf of the state’s NAACP, the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda (GCPA) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice. – Atlanta (AAAJ-A).

The coalition included the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Project Vote, the Campaign Legal Center, the Voting Rights Institute of the Georgetown University School of Law.

The lawsuit charged that the exact-match voter registration verification scheme violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and denies eligible Georgians of their fundamental right to vote under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

“[The exact match] process … makes it almost impossible for some Georgian citizens, particularly African-Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans, to complete the voter registration process,” said Kristen Clarke at the time of filing. She is president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee.

“Young people, senior citizens and Georgians who are new to the state are being unnecessarily disenfranchised by Georgia’s voter registration verification process,” said Helen Butler, executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda. “While it is gratifying to see young people taking an interest in participating in our democracy, I worry about how this process may discourage them from voting in their first presidential election only to learn that they have been denied the right to vote because of an error-prone and flawed process.”

Instead of allowing the lawsuit against him to go to court, Kemp decided to negotiate with the plaintiffs, and agreed to kill “exact match” requirements. Perhaps he feels a wind blowing from the progressive side of the political landscape and decided to loosen his ties to the right wing GOP and the Trump regime.

For example, a progressive Democrat is within spitting distance of being elected to the congressional seat once held by New Gingrich and Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price. See article here.

“This settlement brings an end to Georgia’s onerous exact match requirement and instills important protections for voters in our state,” said Butler.

“Voters deserve an election system that enables participation, not one that creates barriers and forces voters to jump through unnecessary hoops.”

“This case reflects the difficulties that lie in cultural insensitivity,” Danielle Lang, deputy director of Voting Rights at the Campaign Legal Center, told WhoWhatWhy. “… this problem could have been avoided by an increased understanding of the minority communities.”

“The Georgia case, as well as others throughout the country,” says WhoWhatWhy, “show that the right to vote is still under assault. …While over the past eight years, voting rights activists could count on the assistance of the Department of Justice, it is … doubtful whether the Trump administration and Depart Of Justice under Attorney General Jeff Sessions will also stand on the side of voters.

“That means the burden to protect the right to vote will increasingly fall on advocacy groups, the media and the courts.”

“This settlement is an important recognition that as sacred as the vote may be in democracy, the vote cannot protect itself,” said Francys Johnson, president of the Georgia branch of the NAACP. “… It takes vigilance from engaged citizens to protect and defend our fundamental values. These reforms at the heart of this settlement are strong indications that our democracy works.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Larry Rubin
Larry Rubin

Larry Rubin has been a union organizer, a speechwriter and an editor of union publications. He was a civil rights organizer in the Deep South and is often invited to speak on applying Movement lessons to today's challenges. He has produced several folk music shows.

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