ZACHARY: Lawmakers can show First Amendment support

DomeLight by Jim Zachary 

Widespread voter fraud just doesn’t exist. 

The voting problem in Georgia is not that people vote illegally. The problem is that most people just don’t vote. 

We have too few voters in Georgia, not too many. 

That’s why it is so confusing — and disconcerting — when the state launches aggressive voter roll purges such as the one underway. 

Purging more than 300,000 Georgia voters is nonsensical and largely unnecessary. 

The Georgia Secretary of State’s office has said it is simply cleaning up the voter rolls by removing names of people who have not recently voted. 

After disclosure of the action and pressure from the media, the state released the purge list, saying it was in the interest of transparency. 

Real transparency would have been open, public debate about the purge prior to it happening and a completely open process for exactly how and when the purge list was created. Perhaps even more important would be analysis of how many people of color and how many women are set to be removed from the rolls. 

If all we were talking about here was making sure that people who have died or moved out of the state are no longer registered to vote in Georgia, then of course that would make sense. But disqualifying voters simply because they have not been voting recently, for whatever reason, makes no sense. 

Rather, the state should be trying harder to find ways to encourage voter turnout. 

Georgia purged the rolls of 534,119 registrations back in July 2017.

No one wants voter fraud. 

No one wants anyone who is not legally registered to vote in our elections. 

The purge is part of a pattern that has included the closing of polling places and stricter than necessary identification requirements. 

Civil rights activists have said that Georgia is among the top three states with the highest number of poll closures since the Supreme Court decision in 2013 relaxing federal oversight of state elections.  

Any efforts to make it more difficult for people to register and to vote amounts to a type of voter suppression. 

And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the state still needs to address its ill-conceived “exact match” policies. Minor discrepancies on a driver’s license, Social Security card or voter registration form should not prevent legally registered voters from either casting a ballot or having their votes count in an election. Exact match has called into question the right to vote of tens of thousands of legally registered voters. That casts a cloud over our electoral process in Georgia. 

Again, let’s be clear, there has never been any evidence of widespread voter fraud in the state of Georgia. 

People in power should do everything within their power to encourage voter registration and turnout and do nothing to suppress legally registered voters from casting ballots in Georgia. 

CNHI Deputy National Editor Jim Zachary is the vice president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and editor of The Valdosta Daily Times.

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