Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, is trying to prevent newly registered voters from participating in the 6th Congressional District runoff election between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel, and at least five groups are suing to stop him.
The National Voter Registration Act clearly states that the earliest deadline for voter registration is 30 days before a federal election. With the runoff election set for June 20, however, Kemp has declared that 6th District residents will only be eligible to vote if registered by March 20 — 92 days before the election, or 62 days longer than legally permitted.
Election officials in Georgia claim that they are justified in disenfranchising voters who registered in that 62-day window because the runoff is not a new election but a continuation of this week’s special election. The Lawyers’ Committee is among the many organizations that vehemently disagree.
“The case is actually a very, very simple case,” said Ezra Rosenberg, co-director of the group’s voting rights project “Federal law specifically defines elections as including runoff elections.”
Rosenberg is right. The 1993 National Voter Registration Act, defines an election with the same language used in the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act: “a general, special, primary, or runoff election.”
Being right, of course, is not the goal of Georgia’s Republican Party. Rather, they are creating yet another round of obstacles that confuse, intimidate, and keep turnout low to benefit their conservative candidates. That is why the NAACP is not merely demanding a change to the rule but swift corrective measures, asking the court to mandate that correct and publicize the legal deadline.
“The tactics that the secretary of state and the state of Georgia are employing are anything but special. They are typical,” said Francys Johnson, president of Georgia’s NAACP.
Johnson went on to say that the clear goal of Georgia’s decision “is to make voting difficult, to make voting something that all Georgians cannot participate in. Any time there is a need to interpret federal law, [Kemp] always interprets federal law to close opportunities for Georgians to be able to exercise the right to vote.”
Democrats should be heartened to know that in a traditionally deep red district, Republicans are panicking to the point of flagrantly and shamefully flouting the law. However, these shameful tactics have succeeded in the past and they can work again if responsible citizens do not fight back.
In trying to disenfranchise voters, Georgia Republicans have made this race about more than Jon Ossoff. They’ve made it about protecting the principles of our democracy. And that is a fight we cannot afford to lose.