Georgia’s House Bill 6 Presents a Rare Chance to Restore Public Faith in Government

After the targeted voter purges in the 2018 midterm election, Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature should seriously consider passing House Bill 6 to restore public faith in the electoral process. Proposed by Georgia House Minority Leader Robert Trammell, the bill would repeal provisions of the Georgia Code that allow for Georgia’s Secretary of State office to remove inactive voters from the rolls. Gov. Brian Kemp’s successor, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, claimed in a pre-election interview with Atlanta Magazine that a failure to “clean” Georgia’s voter rolls would be a “disaster for the state.” Georgia’s high numbers of voter purges, however, is the real disaster.

H.B. 6 would amend Provision 21-2-234 in Chapter 2 of Title 21 by repealing the state’s “use it or lose it” voter registration policy, which has been criticized for creating an unnecessary constraint on voting rights that primarily affects minorities and low-income citizens. Currently, Georgia voters who have failed to vote, confirm their home address with local and state officials, file for voter certification or sign a state-verified petition within the last three years are assigned “no contact” status. On odd-numbered years, those with “no contact” status are to be sent confirmation notices intended for voters to update their information, but if the confirmation notices are not returned to the government within 30 days, voters’ names will be placed on an inactive voters list. Once voters are marked inactive and do not vote in two subsequent general elections, they are effectively purged from the rolls.

Purging voter rolls can be an effective way to maintain electoral legitimacy, but the practice has devolved into an undemocratic cancer. Purges rely on error-ridden lists and lack sufficient public oversight, according to a report from the Brennan Center. They are also insufficiently communicated, as purged voters are not always informed after being removed, which risks disenfranchising people simply for not showing up.

While Republicans have defended these provisions as promoting electoral security, only eight other states have the “use it or lose it” policy challenged by HB 6. Additionally, the number of voters Georgia has purged since Kemp took office in 2010 — 1.4 million disproportionately low-income and minority individuals — seems unnecessarily large compared to the 32 individuals penalized for voter fraud in Georgia since 1997. President Donald J. Trump even convened a voter integrity commission to find evidence of widespread voter fraud after the 2016 election only to find no evidence of such illicit activity. The 1.4 million figure is also concerning given that Kemp beat Stacey Abrams by 70,000 votes.

If Republicans were genuinely concerned about electoral security, they would have made sure Georgia used hand-marked paper ballots. Such action was recommended by the cybersecurity expert serving on Georgia’s Secure, Accessible and Fair Elections (SAFE) Commission, Georgia Tech professor Wenke Lee. Instead, Raffensperger and his fellow Republicans chose costlier and less secure ballot-marking devices, which Lee noted are vulnerable to cyber attacks and lack an easily audited paper trail.

Unfortunately, HB 6 is unlikely to pass the House due to heavy Republican opposition. But if the party wants to restore public confidence in the rule of law, a small concession on elections reform could go a long way.

The Editorial Board is composed of Zach Ball, Jacob Busch, Ryan Fan, Andrew Kliewer, Madeline Lutwyche, Boris Niyonzima, Omar Obregon-Cuebas, Shreya Pabbaraju, Isaiah Sirois, Madison Stephens and Kimia Tabatabaei.