News & Politics

Federal Judge Denies Effort to Restore 98,000 Purged Georgia Voters

A federal judge ruled on Friday that the state of Georgia acted within the law by purging 98,000 voters from registration rolls who hadn’t voted in 8 years or responded to a mailed notification letter.

All told, Georgia purged nearly 300,000 people who were either inactive or did not respond to the mailer. Liberal groups fought the purge claiming it was unconstitutional.

But the judge didn’t see it that way.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Jones wrote in a 32-page order that the plaintiffs, led by the voting rights group Fair Fight Action, failed to show that the cancellations violated the U.S. Constitution. Jones wrote that the plaintiffs could still ask the Georgia Supreme Court to interpret the state law about inactive voters.

In all, nearly 287,000 registrations were canceled this month because those registered either moved away or stopped participating in elections. An additional 22,000 inactive voters were initially removed but reinstated by the secretary of state’s office because those voters had contacted election officials in early 2012, before the cancellation cut-off date.

“Judge Jones upheld Georgia’s decision to continue to maintain clean voter rolls,” said Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. “Despite activists’ efforts and lawsuits that only waste taxpayer dollars, Georgia is continuing to ensure every eligible voter can vote and voter lists remain accurate.”

Voting is a right, but it’s also a choice. If people choose not to vote, the state doesn’t need to maintain their names on registration rolls indefinitely. Besides, if someone changes their mind, it’s ridiculously easy in most states to re-register.

Needless to say, purging the names of those who are dead or have moved out of the state is vital to maintaining the security of the vote.

As for the group fighting the purge, they will continue looking for a friendly venue to challenge the state of Georgia’s ability to run its own elections.

“The court expressed its serious concern that there needs to be an immediate and accurate interpretation by the state court” of Georgia’s voter registration cancellation law, said Lauren Groh-Wargo, CEO of Fair Fight Action. “We urge the secretary of state to return the canceled voters immediately.”

There was a new law passed by the legislature that could affect those 98,000 purged voters — if the law is interpreted a certain way.

A change in state law this year lengthens the period before voters become “inactive” from three years to five years.

Fair Fight Action argued that the new state law, House Bill 316, should apply to voters who were previously declared inactive.

“The answer as to how HB 316 applies to the voters who were already on the state of Georgia’s inactive elector list … is not clear cut, and both plaintiffs and defendants have offered reasonable interpretations for how HB 316 affects the voters at issue,” Jones wrote. “… The court would be remiss not to express its serious concern that there needs to be an immediate and accurate interpretation by the state court of HB 316.”

To my mind, it hardly matters. The extra two years doesn’t make those voters any more likely to cast a ballot nor does it determine whether they’re even alive or still living in Georgia.

The purge doesn’t disenfranchise anyone, it doesn’t interfere with anyone’s right to vote. It’s a housekeeping measure that’s a small move toward securing the vote.

Too much, apparently, for some people.