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09 October 2008

ACLU, Election Protection File Suit Against Karen Handel Over Purge Of Voter Lists

A coalition of voting rights groups filed a lawsuit today on behalf of Cherokee County resident Jose Morales against Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, asking a federal court in Atlanta to halt the use of database matching procedures that inaccurately flag United States citizens as non-citizens, jeopardizing their attempts to register and vote. Coalition leaders argue that that these practices violate key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. If they continue to be applied, they could threaten the rights of thousands of eligible Georgia voters.

"Eligible citizens should not be required to jump through impossible hoops to perform the basic right of voting," said Jon Greenbaum, director of Voting Rights Project for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "These requirements are in clear violation of election law and present a systematic bias against naturalized citizens."

The lawsuit was filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Voting Rights Project, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and attorney Brian Spears. The coalition of voting rights groups argues that Secretary Handel is violating two federal election laws. First, the Secretary of State failed to obtain "pre-clearance" to implement citizenship record-checks for the State’s voter registration rolls, as is required under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Second, the complaint contends that by using the results of these record-checks to have voters challenged within 90 days of the upcoming election, the Secretary of State is also violating the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, popularly known as the “Motor Voter” Act. The plaintiff in the lawsuit, Jose Morales, is a naturalized citizen and student at Kennesaw State University. A hearing challenging Mr. Morales’ eligibility to vote is scheduled for Wednesday, October 15th in Cherokee County.

Georgia’s record-check process, which relies on the State’s Department of Driver’s Services ("DDS") database, presents a particularly unfair challenge to new citizens. There is currently no procedure to update the DDS database in order to reflect subsequent naturalization by persons who were legal residents when they obtained their DDS license. This creates a systematic bias against naturalized citizens, needlessly jeopardizing their voter registration status and unduly burdening their right to vote. Over 100,000 people became naturalized citizens in just the past 10 years in Georgia, according to the Department of Homeland Security, so the potential for harm is significant.

"The repeated challenge of the citizenship of voters in Georgia, including Latino voters, appears to be the latest tactic to suppress the right to vote in the State of Georgia. It violates federal law and we are going to court to stop it," said MALDEF Regional Counsel Elise Shore.

The ACLU also weighed in:

"The Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act were intended to protect voters from 'October surprises,'" the last minute purging of registered voters on questionable data," said Neil Bradley, Associate Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project.

"Georgia’s Secretary of State, whose job it is to maintain accurate voting lists, has changed the rules out of the public eye, avoiding scrutiny of the new voter purge efforts. If the state continues these practices, thousands of eligible voters could be wrongfully removed from the voter rolls and unable to vote in November."