The nonpartisan voting rights group Project Vote filed a lawsuit recently against Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, over his refusal to release public records relating to rejected voter registration applications.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, alleges that Kemp, in his capacity as the state’s Chief Elections Officer, has violated the National Voter Registration Act by refusing to release voter registration records. With a federal election just over four months away, Project Vote—represented pro bono by the law firms Ropes & Gray and Caplan Cobb—will also seek a preliminary injunction to compel immediate compliance with the NVRA.
“The NVRA requires the public disclosure of voter registration records to ensure that election officials are complying with the law when rejecting applications or removing voters from the rolls,” explains Michelle Kanter Cohen, election counsel for Project Vote. “This provision was included in the law so groups like ours can provide oversight to election officials, and ensure that voters are protected from illegal practices, discrimination, and wrongful disenfranchisement. Secretary Kemp is deliberately sidestepping this oversight by ignoring federal law.”
Project Vote’s investigation into Georgia’s voting records began in early 2014, when the group grew concerned about the state’s enforcement of its proof-of-citizenship law. The need for information grew shortly before the 2014 midterm elections, when the group became concerned that Georgia may have improperly rejected, canceled, or failed to add a large number of applicants to the voter rolls.
Subsequently, it was revealed that Kemp’s former Elections Director, Linda Ford, had been asked to resign after illegally removing nearly 8,000 voters from the rolls. The news of Ms. Ford’s resignation reinforced the great need for transparency in Georgia’s voter registration process.
In light of these concerns, Project Vote made good faith requests to Kemp’s office to provide records that would explain why applicants were rejected, canceled, or otherwise kept off the rolls. Two years later, after lengthy negotiations—and despite repeated promises from the state—those records have not been produced.
Project Vote’s lawsuit asks the court to intervene and compel Kemp’s office to comply, so the group can perform the critical public oversight functions envisioned by NVRA. With a federal election on the horizon, Kanter Cohen says Project Vote will also seek a preliminary injunction to obtain the information, so it can ensure Georgia is not using arbitrary or otherwise improper criteria for rejecting applicants or purging voters.
“Our patience is at an end,” says Kanter Cohen. “Secretary Kemp is illegally preventing us from figuring out just what exactly Georgia has been doing with its voter rolls. With a presidential election just months away, we’re not willing to wait any longer, and the voters of Georgia can’t afford to wait.”