The year 2015 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and yet in Georgia, the suspicion of voter suppression lingers even as a judge rejects claims of unprocessed voter registrations for the upcoming midterm elections. The dispute shook up Georgia’s Secretary of State’s office for weeks and put Secretary of State Brian Kemp on the defense.
Kemp responded on Oct. 16 to a lawsuit filed by Third Sector Development Inc., alleging 42,000 voter registrations were still not on the state’s voter rolls just a month ago, according to New Georgia Project (NGP), who initiated the inquiry.
Founded by House Minority Leader for the Georgia General Assembly, Stacey Abrams of District 89, NGP launched a voter registration campaign earlier this year to help over 800,000 eligible African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans registered to vote.
Congressmen John Lewis, Hank Johnson, Sanford Bishop, and other community leaders joined with the New Georgia Project, to demand swift answers and resolution to address the disparity. “The right to vote is sacred in the state and that means getting them on the rolls,” says Abrams.
Abrams released a statement saying she and others wanted to urge the Secretary of State to simply ensure those registered voters made it on the rolls. “That is the beginning of process,” says Abrams.
“The fact that so many people who are first-time voters are being denied access, that raises the question of whether they will trust the system and actually engage in voting. So it’s critical that we be able to explain today why they aren’t on the rolls,” she adds.
Kemp claimed the lawsuit was false and mocked NGP’s voter list, calling it “messy.” The NGP stated they are required by law turn in all applications regardless if they are incomplete.
Nonetheless, Kemp further called for an apology from Congressman John Lewis, and anyone else who accused his office of not processing registrations. He stated that the applicants either had been added to the rolls or placed in pending status.
The case was finally addressed in a hearing on October 24 and Fulton County Judge Christopher Brasher dismissed the case ruling that there was “no failure of a clear legal duty” and that the Secretary of State Office was “already processing all pending applications.”
Despite Kemp’s defiant stance that voter registrations are being handled correctly, NGP supporters are unconvinced.
“It’s unbelievable that we would even have to visit that issue in 2014 given all of the history that came about resulting in the Voting rights Act of 1965,” says Congressman Sanford Bishop, who represents District 2 and stood with NGP at a press conference earlier this month.
“Things have changed but sometimes things remain the same, and of course to have the thought of some 40,000 folks who have actually completed applications to register to vote to not have been certified as voters and received their voter registration cards is unconscionable, and we want to know why and we want to know more pointedly how soon that can be fixed,” Bishop adds.
Throughout much of early voting, the status of these potential voters was in limbo and meanwhile a legal battle ensued.
On Wed., the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies released its Black Turnout report for the 2014 midterm elections and deems African American voters in Georgia as crucial in one out of eight competitive U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races. The report underscores the importance of the minority vote, and why Republicans and Democrats are fighting to capture the votes of new voters on November 4.
“Slow walking this process is just not acceptable and politics is who gets what when and how; and it’s elected officials who make those decisions, and voters who select elected officials – which means if people are not empowered to vote, they will not be able to select those people to make those policy decisions that affect their lives. That’s unacceptable,” says Bishop.
Congressman John Lewis considers this election one of the most important that will be seen in the coming years and says the election is vital on all levels – local, state and nationally. “We can go forward, we can stand still or we can go back,” says Lewis. “I think as a people and as a nation, we’re going to go forward. Everybody must be able to cast their vote.”
In the state of Georgia, jobs are not being created, according to Lewis. Cuts in education are “unbelievable” and the Governor Nathan Deal rejected the expansion of Medicaid for the poor and low income. Deal insists the solution is rooted in job creation, not putting more money in Medicaid.
Echoes from Democrats expressed a parallel message: they need people in Congress who are going to work with President Obama to get things done. It is no secret that President Obama and the current Congress have not be able to come to consensus on critical legislation. The government shutdown is evidence of the dissension.
Congressman Lewis urges his constituents to “vote for a new breed of elected officials. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, but before we celebrate, we’ve got to get out and vote.”
Georgia voters can check the status of their voter registration online at http://sos.ga.gov