Last week, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced that the office planned to purge approximately 101,000 voters from the Georgia registration rolls in accordance with state law.
The announcement by the Secretary of State’s Office has been just as controversial as it was the last time the rolls were purged back in 2019, as pundits and activists have attempted to once again make voter list maintenance a partisan issue. The removal of voters from the voter rolls, however, is not a policy initiative of the Secretary of State’s office, but a state law codified in the Georgia code.
Who Gets Purged From the List?
The state conducts monthly removals of voter files based on felony convictions and death, but the ‘major cleanings’ happen outside the general election season to ensure obsolete and inactive files are removed from the list when a voter has not had contact with elections officials – either directly or through the Georgia Department of Driver Services.
On Friday, the state said of the 101,789 obsolete voter files that will be removed:
- 67,286 are voter files associated with a National Change of Address form submitted to the U.S. Postal Service;
- 34,227 are voter files that had election mail returned to sender; and
- 276 are individuals that had no-contact with elections officials for at least five years.
All 101,789 are cases where the individual has not interacted with officials for two general elections. [The full list of outdated and obsolete voter files can be accessed HERE]
Is It Voter Suppression?
Once the Secretary of State’s Office announces the plan to purge, voters have 40 days to keep their registrations from being purged if they contact local or state election officials. Anyone who is actually purged from the list can simply re-register before the next election cycle as well.
When Did Georgia Begin Purging Voter Lists?
The law dates back to House Bill 889 in 1997, a time when Democrats were in power and dominated the Governor’s office and both chambers of the legislature.
HB 889 was a bipartisan bill sponsored by Representative Sonny Dixon of Chatham County – a Democrat and later a WTOC news anchor, and co-sponsored by Democrats William Lee, Larry Walker, Jimmy Skipper, and Greg Hecht and Republican Robert Irwin. It was signed into law by Democrat Governor Zell Miller. It took effect on January 1, 1998.
[Note: the vote totals by chamber are not available on legislature archives dating back to the 1990s]
What did HB 889 do?
- OCGA 21-2-234 was amended to clarify that any person who “has not signed a voter’s certificate,” which takes place when a vote is cast at the polls, in three calendar year shall be listed as “no contact”
- The Secretary of State, in the bill, was directed to purge the voter rolls in the first six months of odd-numbered years and required to notify the purged voter by mail instructing the elector to return a card to remain active
- Required purged voters who were dropped because they moved within the county or changed addresses in the county to update their address within 30 days of receiving the notice
- Dictated that if the card is not returned within 30 days, the voter is to be listed as ‘inactive.’
- Dictated that if the card is returned and indicates a change outside of the county of registration, the elector shall be removed from the rolls
- Required that electors placed on the “inactive” list be removed from the inactive list if they failed to vote in two November elections after being moved from ‘active’ to ‘inactive’
- Changed language for absentee ballots to not just address individuals, but specifically ‘citizens.’
- Required poll works to be residents of the county in which they work the polls and be 16 years of age or older
- Required ballots to have language about the prohibition of vote buying
The bill also specifically authorizes the Constitutionally-created office of the Secretary of State to ‘promulgate reasonable rules and regulations for the implementation…” to limit fraud and even specifically suggests comparing voter registration records with death certificates.
OCGA 21-2-234, which deals with voter registration and voter rolls, can be viewed in its most recent version still on the books today. The law has remained intact since the Democrat initiative in 1997.
You can read the bill in its entirety below.