Ga. Voter Rolls Challenged For Senate Runoff Elections

Law360 (December 10, 2020, 4:43 PM EST) -- A federal judge in Georgia is considering whether almost 200,000 people purged from the state's registered voters list in 2019 should immediately be added back so they can vote in the Jan. 5 runoff elections for two U.S Senate seats.

U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones said at the end of a three-hour hearing Thursday that he'll decide "pretty quickly" whether to grant a request by four multi-state voter and civil rights organizations to re-register the purged voters. Voter registration for Georgia's senatorial runoffs, which will decide the balance of power between Democrats and Republicans in the upper chamber, closed Monday.

Counsel for the plaintiff organizations said the state did not follow federal law when it determined in 2019 that 313,243 voters should be removed because they had died or moved out of the jurisdiction in which they were registered to vote. The organizations said their experts found through several system checks that 199,908 of those purged were likely still eligible to vote.

"If one person, if two people don't have the ability to vote because they were wrongly purged, that's one or two too many," said Tricia P. Hoffler of The CK Hoffler Firm, an attorney for the organizations. "People died so we could vote."

The Transformative Justice Coalition, Rainbow Push Coalition, Black Voters Matter Fund and Southwest Voter Registration Education Project sued Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Dec. 2, claiming violations of the National Voter Registration Act and the 14th Amendment right to vote.

Raffensperger denied the claims and asked Thursday for the suit to be tossed, saying the organizations had no standing and that to re-register purged voters from an out-of-date list would lead to duplications and associated problems in the January runoffs.

The groups said Georgia failed to use a U.S. Postal Service licensee, of which there are 18 nationwide, to check the National Change of Address Registry in order to determine who should be dropped from registered voter rolls. This violation of the Voter Registration Act led to the state's second violation for failing to maintain accurate and current voter lists, the plaintiffs alleged.

They also claimed Georgia's "use it or lose it" policy for voter registration went against people's constitutional right to vote. The policy cancels registration after nine years of inactivity.

Jeanne E. Mirer of Mirer Mazzocchi & Julien PLLC, an attorney for the organizations, said their complaint was largely based on a report published Sept. 1 by the ACLU of Georgia and written by California investigative reporter Greg Palast.

The report showed that when Palast hired address verification firms to check the names and registered addresses of the 313,243 purged Georgia voters, they discovered that almost 200,000 had likely neither moved nor died, Mirer said.

Plaintiffs said the company Georgia hired to check its voter rolls against national change-of-address cards was not a direct licensee of the Postal Service.

But Bryan P. Tyson of Taylor English Duma LLP, an attorney for Raffensperger, said Georgia contracted Total Data Technologies Inc. to check its registered voter list against data from Anchor Computer Inc., a Postal Service licensee, and therefore no violation of the law occurred.

Tyson said the state publicized the voter purge list in 2019 in order to give those who were still eligible to vote time to register before the next election.

He said for the plaintiffs to bring claims a year later and after the start of the election process for the Jan. 5 runoffs was poor judgment, and that changing the voter rolls now would unfairly burden the state's election officials, who had been working "day and night" for weeks to get it right.

"Early voting starts in four days, and as of right now that prejudicial impact [on the state] is huge," Tyson said. "Ultimately, we have a stale motion masquerading as an emergency."

The organizations are represented by Gerald A. Griggs of Gerald A. Griggs LLC, Jeanne E. Mirer of Mirer Mazzocchi & Julien PLLC, Maria O. Banjo of Maria O. Banjo LLC, Tricia P. Hoffler of The CK Hoffler Firm and Fred D. Gray of Gray Langford Sapp McGowan Gray Gray & Nathanson.

Raffensperger is represented by Bryan F. Jacoutot, Bryan P. Tyson and Loree A. Paradise of Taylor English Duma LLP.

The case is Transformative Justice Coalition et al. v. Raffensperger, case number 1:20-cv-04869, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

--Editing by Philip Shea.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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Case Information

Case Title

Transformative Justice Coalition et al v. Raffensperger


Case Number

1:20-cv-04869

Court

Georgia Northern

Nature of Suit

Civil Rights: Voting

Judge

Steve C. Jones

Date Filed

December 02, 2020

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