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Georgia Puts 53,000 Voter Applications On Hold Weeks Before Election


In Georgia, a number of civil rights groups are suing over tens of thousands of voter applications that have been held up with just over three weeks before Election Day. The vast majority of those applications are from African-American voters. The groups are suing Georgia's secretary of state, Brian Kemp, who runs voting in that state. Mr. Kemp is also the Republican nominee for governor. Reporter Johnny Kauffman with member station WABE in Atlanta joins us. Johnny, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: What are the reason or reasons these applications are being held up?

KAUFFMAN: So these are applications Georgia's system has flagged for errors. There's this controversial process here called exact match, which compares voter registration applications to other government databases. So basically, it works like this, right? You have - there's just, like, one letter off on your application - maybe it's missing a hyphen or there's, like, a misspelling, maybe a poll or an election worker inputs the information wrong. If something like that happens, then the application is frozen and people are not put on the voter registration list.

But I want to make something really clear in all of this. If the application is flagged, if it goes on the pending list, you can still vote. You can clear up the problem by going to the polling place with your photo ID and then you can still vote. I mean, that's the bottom line. Civil rights groups, though, are saying, well, that's not enough. You know, this is going to create longer lines, confusion and it could discourage people from voting.

SIMON: Yeah. And, of course, we'll underscore this is at a time when there's concern about not just conventional vote fraud as we've known it in this country but perhaps foreign powers somehow invading the voters' roles. And we've certainly been concerned about that. What is the complaint that civil rights groups are making?

KAUFFMAN: Well, the groups point out that the vast majority of potential voters on the list are people of color, meaning that the process is disproportionately affecting people of color and they say that this violates the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution. And actually, last year, the civil rights groups challenged a similar policy to this under Kemp's office. They made similar complaints and there was a settlement that ended up ending the policy. But then, earlier this year, Republicans in the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a law that was basically the policy. So now it's not just a policy under Kemp. He's actually following the state law and his office says, you know, this exact match protocol, it's really important to help fight voter fraud.

SIMON: And of course, he winds up being the Republican candidate for governor against Stacey Adam - Abrams, the Democrat, the first African-American candidate in Georgia nominated for governor by a major party. This has become a huge issue in the race, hasn't it?

KAUFFMAN: Yeah. She is really going after Kemp for this. She says everyone who can vote should vote on behalf of those who cannot. Boosting turnout for people of color is really key to her campaign strategy. On the other side, Kemp's campaign says this is just a manufactured crisis. But for both candidates, motivating the base is really key in this race because the polls show it's really close and there are very few undecided voters, so it's all about who's going to actually show up.

SIMON: Johnny Kaufman of member station WABE, thanks so much.

KAUFFMAN: Thank you. 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.
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