On November 3, 2015, the Lawyers’ Committee, along with pro bono co-counsel at Bryan Cave LLP in Atlanta, Georgia, filed a voting rights lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia in Macon against the Hancock County Board of Elections and Registration (BOER), five individual members of the BOER, and the Hancock County Supervisor of Elections.
The Plaintiffs in the suit are the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda, and five black Hancock County voters.
This action arose as a result of the challenging and purging of black voters from the Hancock County voter registration list in advance of the November 3, 2015 City of Sparta municipal election by the majority white Hancock County BOER. Plaintiffs contend in the lawsuit that Defendants’ actions were intended to suppress the African American vote and to give an unfair advantage to white candidates in the Sparta municipal election and in the upcoming 2016 election cycle.
The Complaint alleges that the BOER conducted approximately 12 challenge hearings between August and October 2015, in which the eligibility of 174 of the 979 registered voters in Sparta was challenged. According to the suit, almost 17 percent of all eligible Sparta electors were challenged and at least 53 voters, nearly all of whom are Black, have been purged from the voter rolls to date.
Plaintiffs allege in that lawsuit that the white Vice Chair of the BOER initially filed challenges to the eligibility of Black voters in her personal capacity and then voted on her own challenges as a BOER member. When questions were raised about the propriety her doing so, the suit alleges that a white Hancock County elector began filing challenges that were formatted similarly to those submitted by the Vice Chair. Although the vast majority of this elector’s challenges were based upon unsubstantiated speculation or hearsay from unnamed or anonymous sources, the Complaint alleges that the BOER sustained many of them.
The Complaint also alleges that the BOER challenged voters if their addresses on file with the Georgia Department of Driver’s Services (DDS) were different from the address listed in the statewide voter registration database (Enet). Plaintiffs contend in the suit that BOER members removed voters on this basis even though they were aware that DDS data was not always reliable and that it did not necessarily establish voters were not eligible to vote in Hancock County.
The lawsuit alleges that Defendants’ actions in challenging and purging black voters from the rolls violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Civil Rights Act of 1964, National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and United States Constitution. The complaint is available here: link.
After the suit was filed, the district court ordered that all eligible voters be restored to the rolls. The Lawyers’ Committee and Bryan Cave were able to identify 19 such eligible voters (two of whom, unfortunately, had died in the interim). An additional 9 voters were identified as eligible, so long as they produced proof of county address when voting.