(ATLANTA) — The DeKalb County Board of Registration and Elections (BRE) will reinstate the eligibility of all voters who had been purged from the voting rolls since February 2018 due to a residency-based challenge, and impose new procedures for the next two years regarding how county officials must handle voter challenges based on an alleged change of address, thanks to a finalized settlement agreement negotiated by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Georgia ACLU, ACLU National Voting Rights Project, and Carlton Fields P.A.
The settlement resolves a 2020 lawsuit filed on behalf of two local voting rights groups, the Georgia NAACP and the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, who sued DeKalb County officials for violating the National Voter Registration Act and the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit alleged that the county unlawfully purged voters from the rolls in response to unsubstantiated voter challenges, thereby infringing on eligible citizens’ fundamental right to vote.
“Our democracy does not work if voters are purged from the rolls and prevented from accessing the ballot, and this settlement protects eligible voters’ right to make their voices heard,” said Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel and senior deputy director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Our lawsuit preserves the fundamental right to vote for thousands of DeKalb County residents who have been at risk of disenfranchisement. Today’s settlement is a critical step to protecting DeKalb County voters from illegal purges during upcoming municipal elections and the 2022 election cycle.”
The new procedures for responding to voter challenges include:
- The BRE cannot immediately purge any voter from the rolls before an election based on a voter challenge unless the voter informs county officials in writing that they have left DeKalb County;
- The BRE must send voters a confirmation notice and wait two federal election cycles before they remove a voter from the rolls based on an alleged change of address;
- The BRE must make three reasonable attempts by email or phone call to notify a voter if their registration is being challenged;
- The BRE is not allowed to solely rely on address data with the Georgia Department of Driver Services during voter challenge proceedings, because of the lag in time of when the government entity updates its files;
- The BRE cannot remove someone if they live in a shelter, vehicle, trailer, or transitional housing, and cannot remove the people without housing, ill, displaced, or economically challenged; and
- Challenges that are received within five weeks of an election will not be processed.
“We welcome the steps DeKalb County has taken to put the voters who were incorrectly removed back on the rolls and to ensure this does not happen again,” said Helen Butler, executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda.
The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) prohibits the immediate removal of voters from the rolls on the basis they have moved, unless the voter confirms in writing he or she has moved or unless a notice is sent to the voter and he or she goes for more than two federal election cycles without voting or contacting election officials. The protections imposed by the NVRA are intended to prevent voters from being improperly disenfranchised when they have not moved out of the jurisdiction or when they are temporarily absent from the jurisdiction for work, school, family, or another obligation.
The county filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit but U.S. District Court Judge Eleanor Ross denied that request in September. Questions surrounding voter eligibility and voter challenges subsequently emerged in DeKalb County and elsewhere in Georgia in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s unsuccessful attempt to overturn the state’s presidential general election results. In December 2020, DeKalb County officials rejected challenges to more than 50,000 voters’ eligibility to vote in the January 2021 runoff election. Thousands of additional challenges to the eligibility of DeKalb County voters filed late in 2020, which remain pending and have yet to be decided, will be covered by the settlement agreement.
The parties will be filing a stipulation of dismissal with the court in the coming days to close the case.
The following are quotes from co-counsel on the case:
“We are very pleased with the outcome and DeKalb County’s willingness to respond to and change its procedures to voter challenges,” said Gail Podolsky, shareholder at Carlton Fields. “This lawsuit, and the many others being litigated throughout the state of Georgia, are critical to ensuring that every eligible Georgia citizen that wants to vote has the opportunity to vote. Our firm is grateful for the opportunity to assist with this work.”
“We brought this lawsuit because the county was conducting illegal purges of eligible voters,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “This settlement fixes that problem and helps ensure voters get appropriate notice if there is a question about their registration, and that they have proper opportunity to address it.”
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of voting rights, criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and hate crimes. For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommittee.org.