By Quinlan Mitchell
October 21, 2014
Caption : Upwards of 40,000 new voter registrations went on the lamb in Georgia for a brief period in late September and earlier this month, as voting rights groups scrambled to find out where more than half of the newly registered voters' records had gone.     

Upwards of 40,000 new voter registrations went on the lamb in Georgia for a brief period a few weeks ago, as voting rights groups scrambled to find out where more than half of the newly registered voters’ records had gone. Amidst the confusion, some groups came to the conclusion that Secretary of State Brian Kemp was somehow connected to the disappearance of the predominantly black and Hispanic voter registrations. However, following the filing of a lawsuit on October 10 against Secretary Kemp, as well as county officials, the missing registrations were finally accounted for.

The controversy over voter registration began with the New Georgia Project (NGP), an organization seeking to register new and critical voting populations in the state. The NGP outlines on its website that it seeks to target specific populations in its voter registration efforts.

“Over the past decade, the population of Georgia increased 18%. The Rising American Electorate (RAE) – people of color, those 18 to 29 years of age, and unmarried women – is a significant part of that growth,” the NGP said.

The group hoped to mobilize that population in Georgia to get out and vote.

“The RAE makes up 62% of the voting age population in Georgia, but they are only 53% of registered voters.”

The NGP was successful in its goal, registering 81,606 new voters in the state from March to September, according to the lawsuit against the state government.

But things grew contentious when its large numbers of registered voters drew the scrutiny of Secretary of State Kemp. He subpoenaed the group on charges of fraudulent voter applications. 25 invalid voter registrations, out of more than 80,000, was enough to justify the subpoena.

Public suspicion over Kemp’s intentions was fueled in part by the strange subpoena and its timing right before elections, but also by controversial remarks made by Kemp to a group of voters back in July.

“I just wanted to tell you…” Kemp said, “you know the Democrats are working hard, and all these stories about them, you know, registering all these minority voters that are out there and others that are sitting on the sidelines, if they can do that, they can win these elections in November.”

Other Georgia Republicans have also gotten themselves into hot water recently, like Senator Fran Millar, who complained on Facebook that there would be polling sites open on Sundays at a mall patronized predominantly by African Americans.

It was in that particular political climate that the NGP and other groups grew worried that the Secretary of State was willing to play less than fair in order to win elections. And following those events, the voter registration applications disappeared.

In late September and early October, with Election Day creeping closer, the NGP and other groups found that a significant number of the voter registration applications they submitted still had not appeared on the official voter rolls. Specifically, 56,001 applicants had not shown up.

“We are concerned, given the speed of the election, that if we don’t resolve this quickly and through legal means, that these will be 40,000-plus disenfranchised voters in the state of Georgia,” head of the New Georgia Project, State Rep. Stacey Abrams (D) told 11Alive News.

A representative of the group sent multiple correspondences by letter and email in order to meet with the Secretary of State to try and resolve the situation. After being rebuffed, legal action was taken.

Now, the saga seems to be coming to a close as the midterm elections near and Secretary of State Kemp claims that most of the ‘missing’ registrations have been accounted for. According to Kemp, about 40,000 of the 56,001 have been processed. As a result, he’s not happy about the lawsuit.

“It’s time for the New Georgia Project and others to stop throwing out random numbers and baseless accusations and let the counties do their jobs,” Kemp said.

But wit h the reveal of the lost and found registrations inGeorgia coming after voting rights groups took decisive legal action, suspicions haven’t been entirely laid to rest. A legal representative for the groups registering voters is still unclear as to why some registrations are on the pending list—a list of about 5,000, at the moment—and would still like to see the issue resolved before elections. 

It seems for the foreseeable future in the Peach State, after the case of the disappearing voter registrations, partisan mistrust may linger for quite a while on both sides.

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