Georgia sued over voting rights, again

Minority voters are more likely than whites to have their Georgia voter registration rejected over typos and simple mistakes in a faulty system, claims a new lawsuit

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Georgia is facing a new federal lawsuit that claims the state is disproportionately rejecting black, Latino, and Asian-American voter registrations over the likes of typos.

The suit was filed on behalf of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Atlanta.

“Georgia is one of the few states that continues to disenfranchise eligible citizens based upon a strict database matching protocol that is not mandated by the Help America Vote Act a federal law on voting systems or by state law,” said Francys Johnson, president of the GA NAACP, in a written statement.

The problem, say the plaintiffs, is that the steps for verifying a would-be voter's identity are plagued with errors. They say people acting in good faith can get rejected for signing up under a married name, or failing to include a middle initial or a hyphen. They also say the computers that verify voter identity can make errors, like declaring a mismatch over an accent in a name. And finally, there's plain old human error, like clerks accidentally transposing numbers in an ID or spelling names incorrectly.

The plaintiffs say more than 42,500 voter registration applications have been suspended or rejected since July 2013 due to this verification process.

And those rejections? They're mostly rejections of would-be voters who are black, say the plaintiffs. About 29 percent of people who've registered to vote in that period are black, but about 64 percent of the rejected applicants are black, the suit says. Applications from Latino and Asian-American citizens are also disproportionately rejected, the suit alleges.

The defendant in the suit, Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, defended Georgia.

"The verification process Georgia currently uses was pre-cleared i.e. approved by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2010. This lawsuit is an effort by liberal groups to disrupt voter registration just weeks before November’s important election," said Kemp spokeswoman Candice Broce in a written statement.

The suit also alleges that it can be ridiculously difficult for a rejected voter to clear up the problem. Notification letters may not explain where the mismatch was, for example. Or the lists the state checks — driver's license and Social Security databases — may be wrong.

The suit points to the case of Elton Garcia-Castillo of Hall County as an example. It his registration was not accepted and that, from the letter he received, he thought he would be able to clear it up when he went to vote in 2015 Gainesville elections. Instead, the suit says, he wasn't allowed to vote.

He registered to vote again and was accepted without difficulty, the suit adds.

Add this case to other wrangles over voting in Georgia. One suit alleges the state is too quick to remove voters who don't vote often enough from voter rolls. Another says Hancock County is unfairly cutting black voters off the rolls. Another says Gwinnett County is unfairly diluting African-American, Latino, and Asian-American local voting power by dividing those voters among several districts. The state got a win in 2014, however, when a Fulton judge threw out an allegation that the state failed to process thousands of voter registrations in a timely manner.

The suits have all come since a major 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that killed federal oversight of election procedures in states including Georgia. Before the ruling in Shelby v. Holder, places with a history of trying to keep people of color from ballot boxes had to get the feds to approve changes to election rules.

Since the ruling in Shelby v. Holder, the Georgia NAACP has been monitoring election administration very closely. The new suit, according to Johnson, is part of that ongoing program.

In the meantime, you can check your voter registration status or register online to vote at the Secretary of State's website. The presidential election is on Nov. 8. The deadline to register is Oct. 11.