In 2017, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed House Bill 268 into law, which codified a voter registration database “exact match” protocol. HB 268 was introduced shortly after the settlement of a lawsuit filed in 2016 by CLC and others, which challenged a similar voter registration database “exact match” requirement that had been implemented by Georgia Secretary of State Kemp.
The “exact match” protocol requires county registrars in Georgia to match information entered from the voter registration forms into a statewide database against records on file with the Georgia Department of Drivers Services (DDS) or Social Security Administration (SSA). If the information doesn’t match exactly with the DDS or SSA records, the voter’s registration is placed into a “pending” status limbo. If the registrant doesn’t “cure” the problem by showing other identification within 26 months, the registration is cancelled.
The result is the flagging for potential removal of thousands of registrations for innocuous mistakes such as misread handwriting, incorrect transposition of driver’s license digits, or the omission or addition of a hyphen in a registrant’s name. These errors are often not the registrants’ fault or related to their eligibility. Nonetheless, they place the burden on registrants to avoid being disenfranchised. To make matters worse, after a mismatch is flagged, Secretary Kemp has not required county registrars to check whether information was accurately entered into the system or engage in any other quality review.
Finally, the system also relies on outdated citizenship data from the DDS, which does not automatically update when an individual becomes a naturalized citizen. This routinely results in registrants being erroneously flagged as non-citizens—even when registrants present proof of citizenship with their initial registration forms. It appears that Secretary Kemp has no protocol for ensuring that voters who provide proof of citizenship with their registration are not still flagged and asked to provide the same information, again, leading to confusion and intimidation.
Impact on Minority Voters
Of the more than 34,000 voter registrations cancelled as a result of a similar “exact match” system from July 2013 to July 2015, approximately 76.3 percent of those registrations were submitted by minority registrants. Since the enactment of HB 268, the “exact match process” has continued to have a discriminatory impact on minority voter registrants and produce high and erroneous no-match rates. Based on data produced by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, of the approximately 51,111 voter registrations that were “pending” on July 4, 2018 as a result of a no-match, approximately 80.15 percent were submitted by Black, Latino, and Asian-American registrants.
“Exact Match” Process Violates Voting Rights Protections
If left in place, this policy has the potential to disenfranchise tens of thousands of eligible voters throughout Georgia and punish eligible voters if they choose not to vote within 26 months of their registration. The policy adds nothing to the ordinary practice across the country of requiring first-time voters who do not “exactly match” to show some form of identification—e.g. a utility bill, lease, or photo ID—when they cast a ballot for the first time.
The Campaign Legal Center has joined with counsel from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP, the Law Office of Bryan L. Sells, LLC, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta to represent a coalition of civil rights groups that includes Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda, Asian Americans Advancing Justice—Atlanta, Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, New Georgia Project, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, and ProGeorgia State Table in the lawsuit challenging this disenfranchisement.
In the lawsuit, Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda v. Kemp, plaintiffs allege that Georgia’s “exact match” protocol violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act, and the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit calls on the federal district court in Georgia to block the state from enforcing the failed protocol and register applicants whose applications were placed in “pending” status as a result of a failure to meet the “exact match” standard.