After revelations in a recent APM Reports investigation, the League of Women Voters is calling on Georgia's top election official to halt a controversial voter list purge that's underway and to eliminate the so-called "use it or lose it" rule under which state officials remove people from the rolls who haven't voted in recent elections.
In a letter to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger last week, the League cited the APM Reports investigation, and subsequent reporting, which raises questions about the accuracy of using infrequent voting as a way to identify voters who should be removed from the rolls. The latest purge list includes more than 120,000 voters who've skipped at least four consecutive federal elections since 2012 and failed to contact election officials — voters eligible to be removed under "use it or lose it."
Georgia is one of a handful of states that has such a policy. An APM Reports investigation in 2018 estimated that Georgia had removed about 107,000 people under "use it or lose it" in 2017. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled in 2018 that such policies don't violate voters' constitutional rights. Advocates, typically Republicans, say the policy makes elections more secure and have argued that most people who haven't voted in multiple elections have likely died or moved away.
But an APM Reports investigation, published in late October, found that many of the people struck from the rolls during the last round of list maintenance, in 2017, were still eligible and motivated to vote. APM Reports found that 70,000 people purged in 2017 came back to re-register by the 2018 election in the same counties that purged them. That means, under state law, they still would have been eligible to vote if not for the state's aggressive "use it or lose it" approach.
"We don't see it as the best way to update the voter rolls," said Susannah Scott, president of the League's Georgia chapter, of "use it or lose it." In the letter to Raffensperger, she called use it or lose it "a failed policy" and pressed the secretary of state work with the Legislature to eliminate the practice because "it punishes voters who have exercised their constitution right not to vote or have faced barriers to voting in recent years." The League is considering a legal challenge if the process isn't reformed.
The Secretary of State's office, however, says it's just following state law. Spokesman Walter Jones said the removals are a necessary step in keeping voter lists up to date.
Raffensperger's office recently took the unprecedented step of posting online the names of people facing removal while, at the same time, sending out cancellation notices to people set to be purged. If they don't respond to the notices or make other contact with election officials within 30 days, they'll be purged. That will put the Secretary of State's office on pace to finish its regular list maintenance 90 days before the state's March presidential primary, Jones said.
With time running out, the League of Women Voters is pushing Raffensperger's office to extend the deadline for voters on the removal list to contact election officials from 30 days to 60 days, the maximum allowed under state law. However, Jones said that an extension is unlikely because it would put his office behind schedule.
The League of Women Voters is also raising concerns that election officials' methods for identifying voters is too lax. The office called on the Secretary of State's office to use more government data — including petition signatures and death records — so it doesn't mistakenly purge people who are still eligible. APM Reports recently found 294 people wrongly placed on the removal list. "History has shown that a substantial number of people purged still want to be Georgia voters," Scott said. "We shouldn't be making it more difficult for people who want to vote to exercise their right."