The New Georgia Project, the NAACP and other organizations began this election year with a simple goal: expand the voices of our democracy by reaching out to those who too often go unheard. To our dismay, thousands of our registrants had not become voters months after they successfully submitted applications. We asked the Secretary of State to account; and when he wouldn't, we requested legal intervention.
Politicians are fond of demanding that government be run more like a business. Why did we demand answers of the Secretary of State (SoS)? Because he is the CEO of Voting, Inc. He has the job of protecting voter's rights, including oversight of 159 subsidiaries -- "county registrars" -- that act like franchisees. They hire staff, manage their budgets and execute the requirements of the job. But our county registrars must use a manual generated by the SoS's office. They must verify applications using a form created by the SoS, evaluate using metrics designed by the SoS and follow notification procedures mandated and controlled by the SoS. He's the decider.
The flaws in these SoS-required systems mean that we have to improve the "business" of voter registration -- beginning with notice. Thousands of applicants have not received communication about their status -- or worse, have received confusing letters about providing information. This can be easily solved by requiring that any deficiency notices be sent by certified mail with a copy of the original application.
Next, we must establish a statutory timeline for action by the SoS and the counties that follow its direction. The ability to restrict ballot access should be as narrow as possible, and not run on a rigged shot clock.
Our citizenship matching system should not simply spit out "yes" or "no" responses but should include reasons for rejection. The use of a Social Security Administration system that has recorded error rates as high as 40 percent is unworthy of us.
Georgia has taken great pains to reintegrate felons into the larger community, a bipartisan effort that continues to bear fruit. Yet, despite the knowledge that the Department of Corrections system lags behind by months with updated data, the SoS requires counties to use this backlogged system to deny ex-offenders their lawful right to vote. Worse, the state has no clear guidelines for appealing a false rejection. A uniform system of re-enfranchisement of voting rights must be implemented with all due haste.
Then there is the nefarious "InterState Crosscheck" system that seeks to purge hundreds of thousands of voters in Georgia based on common last names and scant else. Given the likelihood of common names for African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans, this system is fraught with dangers for eligible voters. If the SoS believes this is the right thing, then he should present his reasons to the legislature and the voters rather than operating in secret.
Lastly, provisional ballots are a flimsy offer as protection of voters -- they are a fig leaf for disenfranchisement. They are an inadequate remedy that places the burden on voters who may not have access to the information required within three days. Worse, they may not find out what was required until days before the election, if at all.
While the judge's decision is disappointing, it was not unexpected. Setbacks in moving democracy forward are common, and we take this attack in stride. The law must be updated, the processes reviewed and any voter suppression efforts disguised as "efficiency" cannot be permitted. We citizen shareholders demand transparency and accountability; a very reasonable demand of our Elections CEO -- considering we're speaking about our core civil rights.
We have only just begun.
Representative Stacey Abrams is founder of the New Georgia Project. Dr. Francys Johnson is president of the NAACP, Georgia Conference. Reverend Dr. Raphael G. Warnock is senior pastor at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.