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Georgia Law Allows Tens Of Thousands To Be Wiped From Voter Rolls


In a single day in July of 2017, Georgia purged more than a half million voters from its rolls, 8 percent of registered voters in that state. And we're going to focus this morning on some reporting from Johnny Kauffman at member station WABE along with APM Reports and Reveal. They found that more than 100,000 of those voters were removed from the rolls for so-called use it or lose it. That's a policy in Georgia and at least nine other states that eliminates voters who chose not to vote in prior elections.

Now, the Georgia secretary of state who oversees voting is Brian Kemp. And Kemp is also the Republican candidate for governor. WABE's Johnny Kauffman is with me. Hi there, Johnny.


GREENE: So if this happened in 2017, why is it significant now? Why are we focusing on this today?

KAUFFMAN: Well, right now we're in the midst of a really close historic race for governor here, and there's lots of national attention on it. And Kemp is running against Democrat Stacey Abrams, and she would be the first black female governor in the country. Her strategy to win this year is all about boosting turnout amongst people of color. And Democrats and civil rights groups say that these voters don't show up at the polls as regularly as Republicans so the use it or lose it purges disproportionately affect those voters. And they say that really this is a new voter suppression tactic Republicans are using to help them win.

GREENE: And so what reaction has there been from voters? I mean, is this becoming a campaign issue in these final weeks?

KAUFFMAN: Yeah. Voting has really become a central issue in the campaign here. And we went to rural southwest Georgia and visited this small town called Moultrie, which is mostly black and Latino. And voter turnout is really low there. And we spoke to Reverend Cornelius Ponder, who's a community leader, and he explains that low turnout is because of these obstacles to voting like the purges. Here's a clip of Ponder from our story that aired on the podcast Reveal.


CORNELIUS PONDER: It almost give people the mindset that this is a privilege, not a right. And so now anything that is a privilege has to get permission. And so if you don't do our way, we won't give you the permission to use this privilege.

KAUFFMAN: And so when it comes to the purges, Ponder's aunt was actually someone that was removed for not voting. She voted for Obama in 2008. She hasn't voted since then and she's thinking about voting for Abrams, but unless she registered before the deadline earlier this month, she may go to the polls and she won't be able to vote. Georgia doesn't have same-day voter registration like some states.

GREENE: So the idea that this is creating a mindset that voting is a privilege, the idea that there's voter suppression, I mean, those are incredibly serious, serious charges. What is Secretary Kemp saying in response to all of that?

KAUFFMAN: Well, Kemp points out that he's following the law here. The Supreme Court has approved this use it or lose it policy. They did that this year. And he says, you know, the state sends out multiple notifications before removing these people. He says he hasn't been more aggressive in purging voters than other secretaries of state.

But the numbers show a big jump in people removed, 1.6 million people since he took over. That includes all removals - so people who have moved or died, and these people who have been removed for not voting.

GREENE: And you've been following a lot of issues like this as this election gets close, right?

KAUFFMAN: Yeah. There have been at least, I think, four lawsuits filed in the last week over voting. The big one is over this policy that's disproportionately holding up the voter registration applications of people of color. Those people can still vote, but civil rights advocates are worried about confusion and people getting discouraged.

There are a lot of absentee ballots that have been rejected, in one county, specifically. And, you know, this is a really close race. There are a few undecided voters. Both candidates are really trying to motivate their bases. And they found that criticizing the other candidate over voting seems like a way to do that.

GREENE: Johnny Kauffman from member station WABE. Johnny, thanks a lot.

KAUFFMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Johnny joined WABE in March, 2015. Before joining the station, he was a producer at Georgia Public Broadcasting, and NPR in Washington D.C.