Georgia Senate Must Reject New “Exact Match” Bill

By Niyati Shah March 6, 2017
The Georgia State Senate Chamber [Image Source]

A couple of weeks ago, we alerted you about a harmful piece of legislation working its way through the Georgia House of Representatives, HB 268. This bill would disenfranchise thousands of Georgians, particularly among minority communities by enacting into law an “exact match” requirement that would reject voter registration applications if the information provided didn’t match, exactly, the Driver Services or Social Security Administration databases. Sadly, HB 268 passed the House of Representatives, and is now being considered by the Georgia Senate.

The “exact match” requirement is proven to be an error-prone and flawed process, and was in fact the subject of a lawsuit Project Vote brought last fall alleging violations of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The result of that lawsuit was that the Georgia Secretary of State entered into a settlement agreement, reinstating over 30,000 wrongfully disenfranchised voters and promising to undertake reforms.

However—despite knowing full well the unlawful and suspect nature of this practice—the Georgia Secretary of State has now worked with the author of this legislation to codify some of those same harmful, illegal practices into Georgia state law.

“We cannot by state law offer a violation of federal law,” said minority leader Stacy Abrams (D-Atlanta), rightfully opposing the bill in the House a few weeks ago. Proponents of the bill, however, indicated that they were willing to risk violating the VRA again, because—in the words of  Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs)—“sometimes we parachute into the right judge.” (You can watch this exchange for yourself here, starting at 2:37:00.)

In its current form, HB 268 could even prevent Georgians without a driver’s license, state ID, or Social Security number from registering to vote at all, even if they have other forms of acceptable photo identification. This is arguably worse than the process the Georgia Secretary of State was previously using. After the settlement agreement, Georgians who did not have a matching driver’s license, state ID, or Social Security number were permitted to prove their identity using a host of other documents, including passports, military ID, tribal ID, student ID from Georgia universities, and naturalization certificates. However, under HB 268, these forms of identification would be rejected because they don’t serve to verify the applicant’s Georgia driver’s license, state ID, or Social Security number.

As Project Vote argued in our lawsuit, this “exact match” process is fraught with errors that are compounded for minority communities. For example, if an applicant’s westernized name is “Chan Woo,” an applicant using a more traditional Korean name format would be written as “Woo Chan.” In an “exact match” process, this individual would fail to match records maintained by Driver Services or Social Security Administration databases. Consequently, this individual, who is eligible to vote, would have to go through additional hurdles to register to vote and cast a meaningful ballot.

HB 268 goes beyond the parameters of the lawsuit to further inhibit voters in other ways. For example, HB 268 also eliminates tribal ID’s as an acceptable form of proof of citizenship, intentionally discriminating against Native Americans. Furthermore, HB 268 also prohibits “exit” or “public opinion” poll conductors and nonpartisan voter information groups from setting up within 25 feet of voters standing in line to vote. However, since the length of voting lines are unpredictable when polls open, such an arbitrary restriction could impede the effectiveness of these individuals and silence their assistance.

This week, HB 268 heads to the Georgia Senate’s Ethics Committee. Project Vote urges Georgians to contact their state senators and ask them to vote against HB 268. This bill is bad for Georgia voters, and would almost certainly end up the subject of further, costly litigation. You can find the contact information for your state senators here.

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