On September 14, 2015, the Lawyers’ Committee, Project Vote, Campaign Legal Center, Voting Rights Institute of the Georgetown University School of Law, along with pro bono counsel Hughes Hubbard and Reed LLP and Atlanta-based firm of Caplan Cobb LLP, filed suit on behalf of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta. The complaint alleges that Georgia’s exact-match voter registration verification scheme violates the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and denies eligible Georgians of their fundamental right to vote under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
The complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, concerns Georgia’s voter registration verification process, which requires all of the letters and numbers comprising the applicant’s name, date of birth, driver’s license number or last four digits of the Social Security number to exactly match the same letters and numbers for the applicant in the state’s Department of Drivers Service (DDS) or Social Security Administration (SSA) databases. If even a single letter or number, or a hyphen, space or apostrophe, does not exactly match the database information, and the applicant fails to correct the mismatch in 40 days, the application is automatically rejected. The applicant is not placed on the registration rolls even if they are eligible to vote. For those who attempt to re-register, there is no guarantee that the application will not be cancelled again if the information supplied in the original application was correct and the matching failure was due to a data entry error by the election clerk or when the information was originally entered into the DDS or SSA databases.
As a result of this process, applications submitted by African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans are cancelled at rates significantly higher than white applicants. For example, of the approximately 34,874 voter registration applicants whose applications were cancelled between July 2013 and July 15, 2016, with a status reason of “Not Verified,” approximately 22,189 (63.6%) identified as Black, 2,752 (7.9%) identified as Latino, 1,665 (4.8%) identified as Asian-American, and 4,748 (13.6%) identified as white.
Even perfect applications can fail the matching process, through no fault of the applicant, because of data entry errors, inherent limitations in the matching software and algorithms that are used to compare the data, system glitches, and other problems that applicants have no ability to discern or to correct.
Together with the complaint, plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary injunction, requesting that the court order the state to treat applicants, who are rejected more than 30 days before the next election, the same way they treat those who are rejected within 30 days of the next election i.e. by allowing them to vote when they present identification. The court held a hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction on September 26, 2016.