Last year, Brian Kemp, Georgiaâ€™s secretary of state canceled the registrations of over half a million Georgians because they left the state or moved to another county. Except they didnâ€™t. The nationâ€™s top experts in address location reviewed Kempâ€™s list of purged voters â€” and returned the names and addresses of 340,134 who never moved at all.
John Lenser, CEO of CohereOne of San Rafael, California, led the team analyzing the purge list. He concluded, â€œ340,000 of those voters remained at their original address. They should have never been removed from the voter registration rolls.â€
This is the story of the mass exodus from Georgia that never happened, and the mass purge of voters by Kemp, GOP candidate for governor, through methods guaranteed to disproportionately take away the vote from the young, the poor and voters of color.
It began five years ago, when Kemp stonewalled my first requests for information on purges in Georgia, first for Al Jazeera and Rolling Stone, now for Truthout and Democracy Now! It took my lawyerâ€™s threat of a federal lawsuit, filed last week in Atlanta federal court, to blast the list of the electorally doomed from Kempâ€™s hands.
The files recorded 530,510 voters as moved from â€œinactive to cancelled.â€ We could not decode about 80,000 addresses â€” and discovered that 19,118 of the voters had passed away.
And the rest of the voters of this supposed mass migration?
The experts ran the names through an â€œadvanced address hygiene process,â€ that is, digging through dozens â€” up to 200 â€” dynamically updated databases (such as cell phone bills and tax filings), as well as limited-access files at the post office, to get the location of voters. They accomplished this with astonishing accuracy â€” something the state of Georgia should have done.
The result: GregPalast.com has a list of 340,134 voters who never moved an inch. Kemp has sent them no notice â€” none â€” but they have lost their right to vote.
Purge by Postcard
How did Kemp get away with this mass flushing of the voter rolls? I call it, â€œPurge by Postcard.â€
It wasnâ€™t invented by Kemp. Itâ€™s used in dozens of states, mostly those controlled by Republican election chiefs.
It works like this: If you miss an election, Kemp sends you a postcard. It looks like junk mail. But if you read the block of print carefully, it asks you to return the card to Kemp after youâ€™ve filled in the address thatâ€™s already on the front of the card.
If you donâ€™t return the card, and you miss an election, Kemp takes out his eraser and cancels you off the registration rolls.
How can he do that? Legally savvy readers may know that the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 prohibits canceling the registration of a voter who chooses not to vote.
However, in June of this year, the Supreme Court said election officials can purge voters if they miss elections and donâ€™t return that postcard, but only if the failure to return the postcard is a reasonable indication the voter has moved.
Kemp has steadfastly refused to look at evidence that would show a voter has not moved. (Heck, Kemp didnâ€™t even wonder why the purged voters paid Georgia taxes if they had left the state.)
So, my foundation, the Palast Investigative Fund, did the work for him, having the experts review the list name by name.
Warning: In addition to the 340,134 who never moved from their original registration addresses, Kemp wrongly purged thousands more who did move, but within their county, say, from one side of Savannah to another. (If you move within your county â€” you need not re-register; you should not be purged.)
Another issue: use of Crosscheck, a list of voters who supposedly are registered in another Georgia and another stateâ€”evidence theyâ€™ve moved. In Truthout and Rolling Stone Iâ€™ve written extensively about this racially biased and factually challenged list created for Kemp by Kris Kobach of Kansas. (Kobach is another GOP secretary of state running for governor.) Despite Kempâ€™s denial, our experts found that 108,000 Georgia voters were also found on the Crosscheck list. Worse, careful review of post office files show 106,000 of these never left the stateâ€”yet lost their right to vote because of these supposed moves.
Some did move, but into Georgiaâ€”a trick uncovered by none other than Stacey Abrams, Kempâ€™s opponent, who found that error on the Crosscheck list which I showed her for comment.
One Savannah voter who was purged was targeted by Crosscheck for supposedly moving to Illinois. Mr. Mitchell (Iâ€™m withholding his first name*) called me upset because heâ€™d actually moved from Illinois to Georgia more than a decade ago.
This one story has a happy ending. Weâ€™d listed all purged voters at GregPalast.com two days before close of registrationâ€”and Mr. Mitchell re-registered just in time.
Jim Crow Is in the Cards
Another expert on our team, Mark Swedlund, is not surprised the postcard trick captures Black and poor voters disproportionately. â€œIt doesnâ€™t shock me at all. Response rates are lower among people of color, in particular among African-American renters,â€ he said.
Swedlund, who advises companies like American Express and eBay about mailing techniques, made clear that demanding that voters send back a postcard to prove they havenâ€™t moved is absurd.
â€œPostcards are the weakest form of mailers to get a response,â€ Swedlund said. â€œIf you use that as a basis for determining whether somebody moved or not, you would be making a very big mistake.â€
Mr. Mitchell saved his registration, but hundreds of thousands of voters will only find out theyâ€™ve been purged when they attempt to vote on November 6. They will be mollified with a â€œprovisionalâ€ ballot. But it wonâ€™t be counted.
In Georgia, if you were removed from the rolls, even wrongly, your vote wonâ€™t count. Call it Kempâ€™s rules.
The article was first published on October 26, 2018 by Truthout.