Georgia voter registration could be curtailed by website change

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A change to a government website that made voter registration automatic in Georgia may have led to a sharp drop in the number of people registering as they got a driver’s license.

A review of data by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that the share of Georgians who registered through the state’s Department of Driver Services fell from 79% in 2020 to 39% last year.

Images from the department’s website show that before January 2021, drivers had to tick a box to refuse to register or update their voting information. But the website changed last year, so voters had to click “Yes” or “No” when asked if they wanted to register.

However, the intention of the program is to register the default drivers, not to give them an option. The share of unregistered Georgian adults has fallen sharply since automatic registration began in 2016, adding more than a million people to the voter rolls.

“It’s really not true automatic voter registration,” Eliza Sweren-Becker, a lawyer for the Brennan Center for Justice, told the newspaper. “This seems to be a good example of the importance of automatic voter registration in its proper form. Automatic registration removes some of the stumbling blocks for voters to help them participate. »

The Department of Driver Services recently changed the website again to make voter registration the default option, but it’s unclear if this will change registration rates. The “opt out” is displayed more prominently than in previous years.

The department said it was up to the drivers to decide.

“They make the choice. The question is always the same, and if that person wants to make a choice, that’s their choice,” said department spokeswoman Shevondah Leslie. “We can’t say the changes to the website made a difference.”

One million fewer people participated in automatic voter registration last year, though many of them are likely already registered, according to department data. About 95% of eligible Georgia voters were registered in 2020, according to the US Election Assistance Commission.

Still, the change means people turning 18 or moving to Georgia for the first time may have missed out on registration.

Democratic U.S. House members Carolyn Bourdeaux, Nikema Williams and Sanford Bishop wrote letters to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday citing “extreme concerns” about declining self-check-in.

“This steep decline raises serious questions about access to the ballot in this year’s elections, including the possibility that voters may believe they are registered to vote but are not and are therefore unable to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” they wrote.

The three called for an investigation, notification of voters whose registration information was not updated, and provisional ballots for affected voters in the May 24 primary.

A new voter who moved from Florida last year, Jackie Harder, said she tried to register when she got her driver’s license in Georgia, but then received a notice saying she was not registered.

“It’s such a big drop. I don’t know why it hasn’t set off all kinds of red flags,” said Harder, a Blackshear resident who later checked in with a paper form. people are being disenfranchised, whether through human error or technological error, it’s a big deal.”

In response to questions about the self-check-in, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger called it a “political false narrative”.

“Georgia remains easy to register, easy to vote and hard to cheat,” Raffensperger said in a statement Tuesday.

All states are required to provide voter registration opportunities at driver’s license offices under a 1993 federal law, but automatic registration is not required.

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