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Thursday, 15 September 2016 07:29

Georgia Should Stop Inhibiting Black Voter Registration

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2016votersuprressDemocracy should be determined by universal suffrage. (Image: Chris Piascik )

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Yesterday I wrote about the diverse ways in which Republican-controlled states pass laws to "legally" suppress the non-white vote. There are occasional -- but certainly not frequent -- mainstream news stories on the same-day denial of voting rights in polling places, based on race. However, there are even fewer articles or television news segments about how many people of color, poor people and people with disabilities are disqualified from voting before the voting process even begins.

A lawsuit filed on September 13 in Georgia by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law and other plaintiffs provides a glimpse into how creatively draconian the efforts to suppress non-white voters can be. In essence, the current process for registering to vote in Georgia is a bit like playing a slot machine that is wired to keep people of color from winning.

On September 14, the Lawyers' Committee issued a news release about its request for an injunction:

The complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, concerns Georgia's voter registration verification process, which requires all of the letters and numbers comprising the applicant's name, date of birth, driver's license number or last four digits of the Social Security number to exactly match the same letters and numbers for the applicant in the state's Department of Drivers Service (DDS) or Social Security Administration (SSA) databases. If even a single letter or number, or a hyphen, space or apostrophe, does not exactly match the database information, and the applicant fails to correct the mismatch in 40 days, the application is automatically rejected and the applicant is not placed on the registration rolls even if they are eligible to vote....

Worse, this process is resulting in the cancellation of applications submitted by African American, Latino, and Asian American applicants at rates significantly higher than White applicants. For example, of the approximately 34,874 voter registration applicants whose applications were cancelled between July 2013 and July 15, 2016, with a status reason of "Not Verified," approximately 22,189 (63.6 percent) identified as Black, 2,752 (7.9 percent) identified as Latino, 1,665 (4.8 percent) identified as Asian-American, and 4,748 (13.6 percent) identified as White.

To fully understand the ways in which this "voter verification process" is another strategy of non-white voter suppression, consider that the population of Georgia was nearly 62 percent white in 2015 -- according to the US Census Bureau -- and the Black population of the state was around 32 percent in the same year. However, nearly 64 percent of the voter applicants rejected by the state were Black, while only approximately 14 percent of those rejected were white over a recent three-year period. The lawsuit was filed against Brian Kemp, who is the Georgia secretary of state and implements the state's voting regulations.

The September 14 news release notes that Georgia has continued this state-sanctioned strategy of non-white voter suppression for years:

The Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General issued a report in June 2009 admitting that the flaws and errors in the SSA's voter registration verification system were preventing eligible applicants to register to vote. Despite this, Georgia has continued to maintain an error-prone system that disenfranchises thousands of applicants each year.

"Georgia, like many states across the country, has erected another burdensome and unnecessary obstacle for those seeking to register and vote," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee. "The Secretary of State's exact-match program penalizes those seeking to register and vote because of errors contained in databases maintained by the state. This seemingly innocuous rule has rendered null and void the registration efforts of tens of thousands of otherwise eligible voters across the state. Georgia has been at the forefront of efforts to make voting more difficult for African American and other minority communities. We seek relief that will help ensure that all eligible people are able to participate this election cycle."

As Kristen Clarke notes, this is the kind of arcane bureaucratic process that the mass media generally overlooks as harmless, when -- in reality -- it is implemented precisely because it is discriminatory. Given that actual individual voter fraud at the polls in the United States is nearly nonexistent, why would the secretary of state of Georgia be spending tax dollars to try and keep people from voting? As Vann R. Newkirk II of The Atlantic noted in an article about voter suppression laws earlier this year, "voter-fraud laws are all about race."

The success of the ongoing Georgia voter-registration process in keeping non-whites from even registering to vote is an example of the diverse strategies Republicans are employing -- and have been using for years -- to influence the outcomes of elections before votes are even cast. It's a vast system of voter suppression whose only goal is to enhance Republican candidates not by turning out more voters, but by dramatically reducing the votes cast by non-whites and other non-Republican demographic groups vulnerable to voting rights' restrictions.

Francys Johnson, a lawsuit plaintiff and president of the Georgia NAACP declared:

This case illustrates why the NAACP will mortgage every asset we have to defend the unfettered access to the ballot. It was paid for with the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors – voting is sacred.

Sinister "voter verification matches" don't protect the voting process; they -- and other voter suppression laws-- corrupt it with racism.

Not to be reposted without permission of Truthout.