New Orleans We knew it was coming. When the American Voters Project combined with ACORN International and Labor Neighbor Research and Action Project to create the Voter Purge Project one of our first conversations was about adding Georgia to the list of states we needed to monitor aggressively. Within days we were hearing calls for help from the New York Times and NPR. Everyone saw this train coming down the track and none of us were ready when one full year before the election the office of the Georgia Secretary of State announced that they were preparing to purge 300,000 voters from the list, almost 4% of the registered voters in the state.
Georgia had been ground zero in the divisive and controversial recent election for governor there when the existing Secretary of State in charge of the election itself was able to narrowly defeat state legislator and African-American woman Stacey Abrams by a bit more than one-percent of the vote. His utilization of voter purges and control of the voter list and election process was a huge issue in the election, and has become the main political project of Abrams subsequently. In 2020, the state has two Republican Senators up for re-election making Georgia a battleground from the top of the ballot on down.
The spokesperson for the coming purge in George was quoted in The New York Times to the effect that this was natural and something that all states are doing, as if that answered any potential question about the practice or the impact of such purges. Certainly, to the degree that the names of deceased voters are on the list, it makes sense to remove them.
Some of the other rationales for the practice are less clear. The next most common has to do with correct addresses, but this argument isn’t a slam dunk. It clearly favors homeowners as citizen-voters rather than tenants who are forced to move more often, and it favors higher income tenants compared to those living more precariously. Little is done to make the process easier for tenants to vote, and the primacy of a home address to a citizen’s right to vote seems more like a record keeping problem, than a useful bar to democratic process.
The most specious argument in some ways may be the rationale that voters that have not participated in recent elections need to be removed from current and future elections, especially given the ideological devotion most states currently ascribe to voter IDs. In countries like the USA where there is no mandatory obligation to vote, why would an eligible, registered voter be removed from voting rolls? The claim of potential voter fraud disappears when voters in most areas have to show IDs now, which would establish their identity and eligibility regardless of whether or not they might have participated in recent elections. In many cases, people aren’t voting because they don’t think their vote counts, the candidates and issues don’t seem compelling enough, or life, work, family and the myriad challenges prevent them from getting to the polls without extraordinary effort. Why should they be purged? The Voter Purge Project also believes that with some work we can show that there is direct discrimination based on place, race, and income in such purges.
This train maybe coming in Georgia and many other states, but it seems clear that it needs to be slowed down or stopped until it is put on the right track.