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Voter purges by DeKalb County officials challenged by voting rights advocates

Lawsuit Filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the ACLU on Behalf of Georgia Organizations

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, voting rights advocates filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia demanding DeKalb County, Georgia election officials stop removing registered voters from the voter registration list and restore all improperly purged voters to the rolls. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the ACLU of Georgia, and the national ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP and the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda.

“Our democracy does not function when eligible voters lose their fundamental right to vote as a result of improper challenges and purges of voters from the registration rolls,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “With the upcoming 2020 Presidential primary looming, it is imperative that DeKalb County and other Georgia counties comply with the requirements of federal law and permit all eligible voters to cast their ballot and have their voice heard.”

The lawsuit alleges that DeKalb County election officials are purging eligible voters in violation of federal law and the U.S. Constitution.  The Lawyers’ Committee and ACLU sent notice letters in August, September, and October 2019 asking the county to stop the practice.  An investigation has revealed that DeKalb County falsely claimed they have been purging voters at the request of Decatur city officials. The city never made any such request nor are municipalities permitted to challenge voters’ eligibility under state law.  The purge was instead initiated by a DeKalb County employee with property interest in the address at which some of the voters were registered.

“We’re suing because the county is conducting illegal purges of eligible voters,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “All counties in Georgia should be on notice that they cannot skirt the requirements of federal law with impunity.”

DeKalb County also purged voters registered at the Decatur Peer Support, Wellness, and Respite Center, falsely alleging that no one could vote while living at the location . However, the Center’s website states that people can stay overnight up to seven days a month.  Many consider the Center to be their “home base” where they receive their mail, receive and apply for services, and conduct meetings and other activities.  Stable housing is not a legal prerequisite to voting Neither state nor federal law grants election officials the authority to assess the adequacy of a voter’s residence or determine where voters may or may not live for voting purposes.. Georgians who are homeless or housing insecure are permitted to vote under state and federal law.

The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) prohibits the immediate removal of voters from the rolls on the basis they have moved unless the voter confirms in writing he or she has moved or unless a notice is sent to the voter and he or she goes for more than two federal election cycles without voting or contacting election officials.  The protections imposed by the NVRA are intended to prevent voters from being improperly disenfranchised when they have not moved out of the jurisdiction or when they are temporarily absent from the jurisdiction for work, school, family or other obligations.  The law is also intended to ensure that voter list maintenance programs are administered uniformly and in a non-discriminatory manner.

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