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Georgia Set To Remove More Than 313,000 People From Voter Rolls By End Of 2019


Georgia is cleaning up its voter rolls, something it has to do under a federal mandate. The process is getting a lot of attention because of what happened in Georgia's gubernatorial race last year. The person who oversaw that election last year, Republican then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp, was also running, and he won in a tight race. His victory was steeped in allegations of voter suppression targeting minorities. Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting reports on what the state is trying to do now.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: By the end of this year, Georgia is set to remove more than 313,000 people from its voter rolls, about 4% of its registered voters. Many of them have been radio silent for years, says Georgia's Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs.

JORDAN FUCHS: These are folks who - they have registered within two election cycles. They did not show up and vote.

FOWLER: More specifically, the state says these people either moved without updating their registrations, had mail returned as undeliverable or made no contact with elections officials for at least three years. The Democratic Party of Georgia's Sara Tindall Ghazal says that last one shouldn't be a reason for removal.

SARA TINDALL GHAZAL: I think it is wrong and anti-democratic for voters to be disenfranchised, stripped of their right to vote because they choose to not exercise their vote.

FOWLER: As the party's voter protection director, she is concerned the cleanup process could end up affecting registered voters, particularly low-income and minority voters, without their knowledge. The secretary of state's office agrees. It says that's why the list was made public in a year that doesn't have a statewide election, and a new law signed after the bruising 2018 election extends the time it takes to become inactive and requires the state to mail out one final notice before registration is canceled. While the voter purge has been controversial with Democrats and voting rights groups, David Becker says Georgia is following best practices to keep its rolls accurate.

DAVID BECKER: My research over the course of the last decade has indicated there's three main components of that - first, online voter registration; two, automatic voter registration; and then three, joining the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC.

FOWLER: Becker is the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research. Georgia will soon join nearly 30 states using ERIC, an information-sharing agreement that should give states a better idea of who actually lives where. Speaking of who, Becker also says that whether people move a lot is the biggest factor behind both inaccurate voter lists and problems on Election Day, not race or party affiliation.

BECKER: Whether it's difficulty keeping a voter record up to date, whether it's returned mail, whether it's problems at the polling places, long lines, you're just going to see that in places where mobility is more prominent.

FOWLER: Georgia is no exception. A third of the inactive voter list comes from the four biggest counties around Atlanta, which are home to a third of Georgia's population. And just over half of the 313,000 inactive registrations are white, much like the state's growing list of 7.4 million voters. Democrat Sara Tindall Ghazal says while Georgia has made steps to improve how it runs elections, it could do even more to make voting easier.

TINDALL GHAZAL: I will say that one step that Georgia could take that many other states have taken that would resolve some of these issues are same-day registration.

FOWLER: Even as Georgia is cleaning up its voter rolls, it has added more than 350,000 new registrations since last year's midterms, many of them from younger and minority voters.

For NPR News, I'm Stephen Fowler in Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stephen Fowler is the Producer/Back-Up Host for All Things Considered and a creative storyteller hailing from McDonough, Georgia. He graduated from Emory University with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. The program combined the best parts of journalism, marketing, digital media and music into a thesis on the rise of the internet rapper via the intersectionality of social media and hip-hop. He served as the first-ever Executive Digital Editor of The Emory Wheel, where he helped lead the paper into a modern digital era.