An Emory student, whose attempts to vote in the 2018 gubernatorial election were hindered by Georgia’s exact-match laws, is joining a legal effort to challenge Georgia’s electoral laws.
Ben Lefkowitz (22C) is one of hundreds signing an affidavit stating he was unable to cast his vote because of Georgia’s “exact match” law and the bureaucracy of its elections system, according to CEO of Fair Fight Georgia Lauren Groh-Wargo, who served as Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams’ campaign manager.
Lefkowitz recently signed the affidavit as part of the federal lawsuit that political action committee Fair Fight Action, backed by democratic candidate Stacey Abrams, and advocacy group Care in Action filed. The groups filed the suit on Nov. 27 against Georgia election officials including Secretary of State Robyn A. Crittenden and the state election board.
The plaintiffs are asking a judge to overturn state laws that promote discriminatory practices. The lawsuit could change state electoral laws for the 2020 election.
The plaintiffs accuse the state election officials of disenfranchising voters, particularly citizens of color, by purging voters from voter registration rolls, adopting a strict interpretation of the “exact match” law, cutting the early voting period, closing and relocating polling locations and failing to send absentee ballots to voters who requested them.
“Georgia began again to erect discriminatory voting barriers reminiscent of the Jim Crow era,” the lawsuit reads.
Lefkowitz, who attempted to register twice before the Oct. 9 registration deadline, said he spoke with several people at the DeKalb County Registrar’s Office and Georgia’s Board of Elections to figure out why he could not locate his voter information online. Eventually, he discovered that he had misspelled his last name on the registration form.
“I sent in two forms to register to vote in the state of Georgia, but I went online and I saw that my name wasn’t on the ‘MyVoter.com’ page,” Lefkowitz said. “No one could help or knew why. There wasn’t much I could do other than try to cast a provisional ballot.”
Three weeks after election day, after Lefkowitz and Associate Professor of Political Science Andra Gillespie called the state elections board and were connected with three separate people, they found the reasoning behind Lefkowitz’s failed registration.
“It turned out that from the very beginning, my last name was spelled wrong,” Lefkowitz said. “No one had bothered just to look a line down and tell me that there was a clerical error; instead, I was told I wasn’t allowed to vote from the beginning.”
Georgia’s “exact match” policy flags voter registrations that have discrepancies with other official identification documents and puts them on hold. Mismatches can occur for various reasons like missing hyphens, accent marks and middle initials, but critics have called it a voter suppression tactic. Those who are flagged as potential noncitizens must be approved by a deputy registrar before being allowed to vote. Georgia Governor-elect Brian Kemp, who served as Georgia secretary of state during the election, came under fire after his office put on hold about 53,000 voter registration applications, which were disproportionately from African-American individuals.
On election day, polling officials instructed Lefkowitz to call a number provided to him to confirm his vote was counted, but upon calling, he soon found that the number was not working, and was directed to another number. This number had told him they had not yet counted provisional ballots yet.
“They told me they would get back to me, but never did,” Lefkowitz said. “I told my story to the Georgia voter protection hotline the Friday after the election … and they contacted me telling me they were going to file a lawsuit against the state of Georgia and asked if I would like to give a sworn statement.”
Lefkowitz signed upon request from the Democratic Party of Georgia’s Voter Protection Hotline, with whom he remained in contact after he called them a week after election day. The hotline received calls from more than 40,000 voters who reported problems at the polls, according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.
Lefkowitz, 19, said this would have been the first election in which he voted.
“It’s incredibly upsetting … I’ve always been taught that these institutions were here to help you vote, and not detract from that,” Lefkowitz said.
Carson Greene contributed reporting.
Editor’s Note: Lefkowitz is a photographer for the Wheel. He was not involved in the writing of this article.