News & Politics

Georgia Court Refuses to Intervene on Behalf of 56,000 Missing Voters

And the time to appeal is running out.

Photo Credit: Image by Shutterstock

On Tuesday, a Georgia court refused to issue an emergency order adding more than 56,000 people to this fall's voter rolls.  

Civil rights groups sued Georgia's Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, a Republican, claiming that he and county election offiials were not processing voter registration forms submitted by the New Georgia Project, which turned in more than 81,000 applications gathered in communities of color. The election officials claim they don't have the missing applications.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Christopher S. Brasher threw out the lawsuit, writing that the New Georgia Project "failed to allege, much less show, the counties' registrars past or continued failure to process voter registration applications."

The ruling might have a big impact on Georgia's already close U.S. Senate race and governor's race. Across the country, as early voting starts this week in a handful of states where rightwing governors face tight races and the Senate's majority is up for grabs, decisions by federal and state courts have been shaping voting with partisan implications.

Most of the litigation is not about voter registration, but about new state-issued photo ID requirements to get a ballot. The Republican Party, nationally, has been behind most new laws that have made voting more cumbersome—and in some cases, impossible. But the GOP has not always been winning in court, despite what just happened in Georgia. In some states, Republican efforts to police the polls appear to be backfiring,

That's the case in Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker is in a tight re-election fight and his new voter ID law was blocked by courts for this fall after a high-profile legal fight. In Pennsylvania, where another rightwing governor, Tom Corbett, is far behind in the polls, his voter ID law was also blocked by a judge this year. In Arkansas, the state Supreme Court also threw out a tougher voter ID requirement, which might boost turnout in a state with a close U.S. Senate race. Higher voter turnout is seen as possibly helping Democratic candidates, and negative press about the laws can motivate people to vote to be heard.

But Republican partisans also have been winning election laws cases in court. Before Tuesday's Georgia ruling, the most high-profile example was Texas, where the U.S. Supreme Court’s rightwing majority upheld its new and more restrictive voter ID law.

In her dissent in that ruling, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that a lower federal court had found that upwards of 600,000 Texans lacked IDs, and that the state was doing little to inform voters about the new law’s requirements. The new ID law’s biggest beneficiary is likely to be one of its top defenders, Texas Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running for governor against Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis. 

The U.S. Supreme Court also upheld most of North Carolina’s tough-minded voting reforms, which are seen as helping Republicans in another state with a pivotal Senate contest. The Court agreed with ending Election Day registration, a policy that encourages turnout, and it also upheld a technicality where a provisional ballot turned in at the wrong precinct would not be counted. In a polling place, that “wrong precinct” could be another table in a high school gym. North Carolina’s tougher voter ID law will not be in place this fall, but Republicans have complicated the process, which can discourage voting.

A slightly different voter registration fights has been unfolding in Kansas, where Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach instituted a proof of citizenship requirement for state elections. More than 10,000 otherwise eligible Kansans—who were registered but didn’t have a copy of a birth certificate or passport to prove their citizenship—are in a “suspense” file. That means their registration is incomplete and votes won’t count even if they cast a provisional ballot. Kansas has several tight top races where rightwingers could be ousted.

Calling Out Voter Suppression

The 2014 election is not just seeing judges issuing voting rights rulings with partisan implications. A handful of federal judges who do not like the GOP's war on eligible voters—including at least one well-known conservative—have said so in their rulings.

In Texas, U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, whose ruling on voter ID was overturned by the Supreme Court, called the state's new voter ID law “a poll tax.” In her dissent, Ginsburg cited Ramos’ analysis that 600,000 Texans would not be able to get a ballot, and said that Republicans were motivated “because of, and not merely in spite of, the voter ID law’s detrimental effects on the African-American and Hispanic electorate.”

In Chicago, U.S. Circuit Court Judge Richard Posner, a nationally known conservative, lambasted Wisconsin’s new ID law, saying it would disenfranchise 300,000 voters, including many people in communities of color, poor people and students.

“There is only one motivation for imposing burdens on voting that are ostensibly designed to discourage voter-impersonation fraud, if there is no actual danger of such fraud, and that is to discourage voting by persons likely to vote against the party responsible for imposing the burdens,” Posner wrote.

Meanwhile, there is also new evidence that voter suppression tactics can make a difference in tight races. This month, Congress' investigative arm, the Government Accountablity Office, released a detailed study concluding that restrictive voter ID laws decreased voter turnout in Kansas and Tennessee by two-to-three percent once they took effect. The greatest drop was among young voters, first-time voters and African-Americans, GAO found.    



Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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