ACLU of Georgia

Georgia NAACP et al. v DeKalb Board of Registration and Elections

Between August and November of 2019, the DeKalb Board of Registration and Elections held at least four hearing in which private citizens challenged the legal voter registrations of eligible U.S. citizens. In December of 2018, the DeKalb Board of Registration and Elections began sending letters to U.S. citizens.

 

Without following federally mandated safeguards – namely, obtaining written confirmation from the voter or providing adequate notice and waiting for the grace period of two federal election cycles to pass, and acting through its members and staff as well as with the cooperation of others, the DeKalb board immediately eliminated from the registration list those eligible U.S. citizens who were legally registered to vote

 

DeKalb board officials encouraged, solicited, and acted on extraordinary voter challenges that extend beyond the routine list maintenance activities that are required by state and federal law.

 

For example, the DeKalb board actively solicited challenges to the eligibility of voters in the City of Decatur. After Decatur officials declined to identify any voters who warranted a challenge, DeKalb board officials made false suggestions to the contrary and, on their own initiative, proceeded to locate Decatur voters to challenge and ultimately to eliminate their voter registrations from the rolls. Several of the Decatur voters were selected for removal based on arbitrary and discriminatory criteria, such as the voters’ use of non-traditional housing as their address of registration.

 

The DeKalb BORE’s purges based on these challenge procedures violate the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which Congress enacted in large part to protect United States citizens from discriminatory and unfair registration laws with particular emphasis on those practices that negatively affect voter participation among voters of color and other vulnerable groups. The NVRA expressly sets forth requirements that governing bodies must meet before removing a voter from the registration rolls.

 

August 20, 2019 Letter to the DeKalb Board of Registration and Elections

On August 20, 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, on behalf of the New Georgia Project and the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda, wrote a letter warning the DeKalb County Board of Registration and Elections that it may have violated the law when it categorically removed all voters who listed as their residence 444 Sycamore Drive, Decatur, GA 30030. Located at that address is the Peer Support, Wellness, and Respite Center, which according to its website is freely available for people with mental disabilities who need housing to avoid psychiatric hospitalization.

 

According to the minutes, the board removed the voters because it decided that the address was not a “residence.” However, as the letter stated, neither state nor federal law grants election officials the authority to judge what constitutes housing, especially for those hardest hit by life’s struggles.

 

As the letter stated, “election officials must be vigilant when considering challenges or requests to disenfranchise people that are based on Google Maps or their preconceived notions of what a ‘residence’ looks like.” Furthermore, Georgia courts have recognized that a voter’s residency does not depend solely on how long they stay in one place.

 

In addition, Georgia law requires that only individual voters – rather than municipalities like the City of Decatur – can file challenges to the qualifications of a registered voter. Yet, the board’s minutes fail to reflect who asked the City of Decatur to remove those voters from the rolls.

 

September 24, 2019 Letter to the DeKalb Board of Registration and Elections

On September 24, the ACLU of Georgia and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, on behalf of the New Georgia Project and the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda, sent a second letter demanding that the DeKalb County Board of Registration and Elections cease its removal of registered voters from its rolls on illegal residency-based grounds.

 

According to board minutes for the August 1, 2019, meeting, the board removed all registered voters who listed as their residence 444 Sycamore Drive, Decatur, GA 30030, a place for people with mental disabilities who need housing to avoid psychiatric hospitalization. Allegedly, the removal request had come from the City of Decatur. On August 20th, the ACLU of Georgia and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sent a letter to the board warning it that the removal of these voters was illegal.

 

Since then, the ACLU of Georgia and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law have learned that – contrary to what the Board Minutes reflect – the City of Decatur never filed any challenge at all. Instead, the challenge was actually initiated by an employee of the DeKalb Board of Registration and Elections who had a personal interest in the property at issue.

 

To protect the sacred, constitutional right to vote for all citizens living in DeKalb County, the ACLU of Georgia and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law demanded that DeKalb County adopt the following policy on residency-based voter challenges so that the county complies with state and federal law.

 

  • Any challenge to an individual’s voter registration must be brought by a registered voter of the same county or municipality as the challenged voter. Government entities, including the board itself, are prohibited from filing or encouraging these challenges.

  • Any challenge must be in writing and specify distinctly the legal grounds of the challenge.

  • Federal law prohibits the removal of any voter on the grounds that the voter has moved from the address listed under the registration without providing notice to that voter as well as a two-to-four year waiting period (two federal general election cycles).