Federal scrutiny of Georgia’s voter citizenship verification requests earlier this week was followed on Thursday with a federal lawsuit filed by several voting rights groups saying that the checks first must be approved by the Department of Justice.
U.S. Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue sent a letter to Georgia’s secretary of state and that of five other states requesting that they take a closer look at how election officials are verifying the citizenship of new voter registrants.
In the letter, Astrue claims that Georgia has made nearly 2 million citizenship verification requests since 2007 — an action that puts the state at the top of the list among all other states for such requests. State officials question so high a number, since just 406,000 registered in Georgia during the same period."When we received the letter, that was the first time that we had heard from the Social Security Administration (on this issue)," said Matt Carrothers, a spokesman for Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel in an interview with The Times. "We’re not sure how they arrived at that figure, but we are working to determine how that figure was derived."
The "extraordinarily high levels" of citizenship verification requests performed by Georgia, Alabama, Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio prompted Astrue to contact each state’s secretary of state.
Georgia is among several states with a history of discriminatory voting practices that must get federal approval before changing election policy under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Department of Justice said the state’s action to verify citizenship using Social Security numbers violated the 1965 voting law because the policy did not receive federal clearance first for what it called an apparent change in policy.
Several voting rights groups asked a federal judge Friday to stop Georgia’s attempts to verify the identities and citizenship of new voter applicants, arguing they amounted to a "systematic purging" of rolls just weeks before the election.
Handel said no registered voters have been stricken from the rolls because of the immigration checks. Of the 120,000 new voter applications the department is now handling, she said officials have questioned an estimated 3,000. Some 2,000 involve citizenship, she said.
Carrothers said the citizenship verification process is not something that is performed on a local level. Instead, the verification requests are prompted when information in state databases doesn’t match up with the information that applicants list on their registration form.
When the application information doesn’t match up, a report is generated and the applicant’s registrar’s office is notified. The registrar then contacts the applicant and alerts him or her that there was a discrepancy with the application and gives the specific reason why. After being notified, the applicant has the opportunity to provide the necessary documentation to prove that he or she is eligible to vote.
There are several reasons why an application can be flagged during the verification process, including name and address changes.
"The verification process only flags an application for citizenship issues if the applicant has previously self-reported on an application for a state ID that they were a noncitizen," Carrothers said. "In the question of citizenship, it is imperative that election officials are ensuring that only U.S. citizens and Georgians are allowed to register."
Although federal officials are claiming that Georgia is performing an extremely high number of voter citizenship verification requests, local officials say they haven’t seen any indication that such is the case.
"We have not seen many citizenship verification requests at all," said Charlotte Sosebee-Hunter, interim director of the Hall County Elections and Voter Registration Office.
"Once we are notified by the state that there is an issue, we contact the voter to get proof of citizenship. And once they provide us with the proper documentation, we notify the secretary of state’s office, and they update the voter’s information."
Also, a Fulton County judge ruled on Friday that Georgia voters will have to present a photo ID when casting a ballot in November’s general election, denying an effort by state Democrats who argued the law disenfranchised voters. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Tom Campbell’s ruling means that all in-person voters must present valid, government-issued photo identification to cast a ballot. The Democratic Party of Georgia has repeatedly tried to block the law.
The Associated Press
contributed to this story.