Federal Judge First Blocks, Then Allows Purge of Georgia Voter Rolls

December 17, 2019 by Dan McCue

A federal judge said he will allow Georgia to begin a sweeping purge of its voter rolls Monday, just hours after he initially put the potential removal of more than 300,000 inactive voter registrations on hold.

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones, an appointee of President Barack Obama presiding in Atlanta, had ruled Monday morning that the removals should be put on hold and that he would further consider the issue on Thursday.

But he later decided to hold the hearing Monday afternoon and ruled the voter cancellation can move forward.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced in October that the registrations of about 313,000 were at risk of being cancelled. That number represents roughly four percent of the state’s total registered voters.

Notices were sent to the last known addresses of the voters, giving them 30 days to respond and hold on to their current registration.

Walter Jones, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said the purge would take place overnight Monday into Tuesday.

Fair Fight Action, a voting rights group founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams asked U.S. District Judge Steve Jones to “maintain the status quo.”

The organization argued that the purge is premised on an old state law that requires voters to be purged from the rolls after seven years of inactivity. A new law allows nine years of activity before being removed.

The difference could affect the registration of about 120,000 voters, the group said.

“Georgians should not lose their right to vote simply because they have not expressed that right in recent elections, and Georgia’s practice of removing voters who have declined to participate in recent elections violates the United States Constitution,” Fair Fight Action CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo said in a statement.

Lawyers for the group could not immediately be reached Monday afternoon.

Voter purges became a central issue in the race for governor between Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp in 2018.

Kemp, who served as secretary of state before being elected governor, purged over 1.4 million voter registrations in Georgia between 2012 and 2018.

The high-water mark in this activity came in July 2017, when Georgia purged some 534,119 voter registrations — purportedly the largest removal of voters in U.S. history. 

The secretary of state’s office maintains that the purge is necessary to ensure the accuracy of voter lists and limit confusion and delays at polling places on Election Day.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that similar vote registration removals in Ohio were legal. 

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