Georgia Largely Abandons Its Broken “Exact Match” Voter Registration Process

Georgia voters inaccurately flagged as non-citizens will still face problems when registering to vote

ATLANTA, GA – On Tuesday, after three federal lawsuits in 2008, 2016 and 2018, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed House Bill 316, largely ending the onerous ‘exact match’ system that has failed Georgia voters for the past 12 years.

The ‘exact match’ system placed more than 50,000 voter registrations – disproportionately those of voters of color – on hold before the 2018 elections because of discrepancies between government records. Thousands of the applicants were also put on hold because they were flagged as potential non-citizens when their applications were matched against outdated DDS records. A coalition of Georgia civil rights groups – represented by Campaign Legal Center (CLC), Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta, Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP, and The Law Office of Bryan L. Sells – sued prior to the 2018 election and that lawsuit is ongoing.

Litigation around the state’s process for verifying voter registration applications started over a decade ago. After the initial 2008 litigation that challenged the first implementation of the verification process, then-Secretary of State Kemp implemented an exact match process in 2010. That version was ended by a settlement after a lawsuit filed in 2016. In 2017, the legislature revived the failed program despite knowing it had a disparate impact on voters of color. After the current lawsuit was filed in 2018, the Georgia legislature and Governor Kemp have now largely ended this discriminatory system. However, the Georgia applicants who are incorrectly marked as non-citizens under the ‘exact match’ system, will continue to face issues when registering to vote.

“Voters in Georgia should feel relief today that minor discrepancies or typos on government documents will not deny them the right to vote,” said Danielle Lang, co-director, voting rights and redistricting at CLC. “Georgia’s abandonment of this failed program is long overdue. Georgia should also abandon its reliance on unreliable data to impose additional burdens on registration for naturalized citizens.”

“While this is a step in the right direction, Georgia is continuing to match voter registration data against outdated Department of Drivers Services (DDS) record,” said Julie Houk, Managing Counsel for Election Protection for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Georgians who are United States citizens will continue to be inaccurately flagged as non-citizens if they obtained a Georgia driver’s license prior to attaining citizenship or because of other deficiencies in the database matching process. A result, eligible Georgia citizens will continue to be unreasonably burdened by having their voter registration applications put on hold or even canceled.”

“Many of the voters who will continue to be affected by the citizenship issue are Asian American,” said Stephanie Cho, Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Atlanta. “Asian Americans already historically have low levels of civic engagement, and burdens to voting like this only make that worse. We will continue to work with our communities on the ground to let them know about this law change and provide support for the burden the system continues to place on naturalized citizens.”

The failed exact match program put voters’ registrations in jeopardy for reasons as benign as hyphenated last names, minor typos or data entry errors. Voters will no longer have their registration canceled because of such minor discrepancies; they will be fully registered and treated exactly the same as other voters. Under the new law, voter registration applicants flagged for discrepancies between DMV and voting records will be fully registered to vote but must produce proof of identity to a poll official before voting. Like all Georgia voters on Election Day, this means they must show photo ID to a poll official before they cast a ballot.