A fight over alleged voter registration fraud in Georgia appears headed to the courts as early voting begins in the state, amid concerns that tens of thousands of Georgians who show up to vote may learn instead that their registration forms were never processed.
More than 81,000 new voters were registered during this campaign cycle by the New Georgia Project, which targets unregistered African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans. Increased minority turnout in November could make the difference for Democrats in the state’s tight gubernatorial race between Gov. Nathan Deal (R) and Jason Carter (D) and the increasingly competitive U.S. Senate race between David Perdue (R) and Michelle Nunn (D).
“When you talk to Republican campaign operatives, yeah, they’re quite worried” about the long term electoral impact of growth in minority turnout, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia. “They know the Georgia electorate isn’t going to become whiter.”
Voter registration efforts by New Georgia Project looked to tip the scales.
“The Democratic Party, particularly in this state, has gone out and made a real effort to register people to vote,” said Georgia Sen. Fran Millar (R), who represents an area in DeKalb County which was targeted by New Georgia Project. “I can’t fault them for that … That’s a real wake up call for Republicans.”
Rep. Stacey Abrams (D), head of the group, called the push one of the largest concentrated efforts to register new voters in state history.
Last month, Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) said his office had received complaints about possible voter registration fraud and was investigating. They found found 50 applications that they deemed fraudulent, and another 49 they dubbed “suspicious.” Those numbers represent less than 1 percent of the total application forms turned in by the group.
Abrams said before the investigation, her group worked with Kemp’s office to ensure they met state requirements, even conducting canvasser background checks on advice from Kemp’s chief investigator. Now, however, the relationship has gone cold, with officials refusing meetings and not answering questions about 56,001 voters who filled out registration forms but cannot be matched with state records, she said.
Jared Thomas, a spokesman for Kemp, said all applications they received would be processed. “Any lawsuit to the contrary is simply frivolous,” he said.
The New Georgia Project and the NAACP filed a petition for writ of mandamus Friday against Kemp and five county boards of registration and elections in a Georgia Superior Court, asking they be required to determine whether the remaining voter registration forms are authentic and add them to voter rolls.
“The election is fast approaching, and there are no do-overs,” Abrams said.
Early voting in the state began Monday, and with the clock ticking, Abrams called litigation “the last resort.” She characterized the fears over fraud as irrational, saying it’s much easier to influence an election legally. “We have no interest in voter fraud,” she said. “It doesn’t benefit us.”
Some Democrats have suggested the state’s moves in the case could motivate their party’s voters. Bullock, the University of Georgia professor said, the controversy surrounding the issue could benefit both sides.
Democratic and Republican leaders may have opposite views of the issue — but they’ve got at least one goal in common, said Bullock: “An awful lot of this is to mobilize the base,” he said.