It is now clear that the “voter fraud” that Republicans are so concerned about does actually exist- only it’s the fraud that they themselves are perpetrating. Fulton County, Georgia is being fined $180,000 after it recently confessed to illegally disenfranchising and misleading voters over the last seven years. In both the 2008 and 2012 elections, the county was found guilty of over 24 violations of state law, which include telling voters to go to incorrect precincts and rejecting eligible ballots in an attempt to make things even more difficult for minorities to participate in elections. The Republican Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, has previously launched criminal investigations into minority registration drives and is ultimately responsible for this massive violation of voter rights- to his party’s benefit.
The particular affected elections may have been a result of dirty politics. Fulton County happens to have a large African American voting population, that is mainly progressive and supported President Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 elections. According to the new settlement, elections officials of the county were guilty of such violations like failing to provide absentee ballots when voters requested them, and not putting properly registered voters on the rolls.
In an interview with Think Progress, Erica Pines of the Fulton County Democratic Party expressed relief that the violations had been exposed:
“We’re happy that the [settlement] is over and we’re able to move forward. We want our voters, many of whom are minorities who’ve experienced a history of disenfranchisement, to remain confident in our elections system and not fear there’s going to be some type of issue when they go to the polls.”
Unfortunately, Fulton County isn’t the only place in Georgia where minority voters are given a hard time. DeKalb County, which is home to many black Democrats, received racist criticism from Republican Georgia State Senator Fran Millar when it held early voting at a large mall. Millar whined that “this location is dominated by African American shoppers and it is near several large African American mega churches. I would prefer more educated voters than a greater increase in the number of voters.”
Unfortunately, Millar’s bigoted attitude runs rampant throughout the state. In 2014, over 40,000 just-registered young, low-income, black voters mysteriously, conveniently vanished from the rolls. The state was sued by voting rights groups to get them to process the registrations, but the Secretary of State pushed back and accused those groups of committing voter fraud – which may have been an attempt to prevent the matter from being pursued further.
Disenfranchising minorities isn’t new in Georgia – over the last several years, African American voters have been disproportionately burdened. For example, the state enacted one of the most rigid voter ID laws back in 2006. In the last few years, Georgia has also decreased the early voting period from 45 days to 21 days, and even tried to bring it down to 12 days. Pines said, “Our state legislature is so far to the right that they’re introducing legislation every year to reduce early voting, which hurts in particular the minority community. We always encourage early voting because if there’s a glitch or problem, we can take care of it prior to Election Day.” This year, Georgia’s Director of Elections left her position because her office had canceled the registrations of hundreds of thousands of voters. To prevent this from happening again, Fulton County has promised to drop another $200,000 on an online training software system for poll employees.
Some 40,000 voter registrations vanished from the rolls during the last election, which turned neck-and-neck races into Republican victories for both the governor’s office and U.S. Senate seats. It seems too much of a coincidence that foul play must be suspected on the side of the Republicans.
Unfortunately, these issues are likely to continue. Georgia happens to have an “exact match” system which allows even the most minor difference in someone’s voter registration and their license or Social Security card to prevent them from voting. Voting rights advocate Julie Houk, who works with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, explained to Think Progress, “People were rejected because there was a hyphen in their last name on their form, but not in the state records. They were rejected for applying using their common name, like Tom versus Thomas. This happened to quite a few people in 2014.”
If minorities didn’t have enough obstacles already, the state is using a controversial policy that gives voters only 30 days to provide proof of citizenship so they can register. Houk says, “It’s an unnecessary deadline that prejudices people who may not have access to the proof they need.”
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.