Atlanta, GA, April 20, 2017 — Today, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, filed a complaint in federal court in Georgia on behalf of five civil rights and voting rights organizations, challenging a Georgia law that cuts off voter registration for federal run-off elections two months earlier than guaranteed under federal law.
Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act requires states to ensure that any person can vote in an election for a federal office if he or she registers to vote at least 30 days before that election. The governing federal statutes specifically define “election” as including runoff elections. Georgia law, on the other hand, while allowing persons to vote in an election if they register at least 30 days before that election, does not allow a person to vote in the runoff if he or she had not registered in time for the general election. This, the complaint alleges, violates the federal law.
The effects of Georgia’s law are serious and immediate. For example, a special election for a vacant congressional seat was held on Tuesday, April 18, and the cut-off for registration for that election was March 20. But the runoff will not be held until June 20. Under Georgia law, unless the court intervenes, no one will be able to vote on June 20, unless they had registered by March 20, long before the 30-day cutoff under federal law.
“This lawsuit is necessary in order to provide the people of Georgia with the full protections of the federal law,” said Ezra Rosenberg, co-director of the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Cutting off the registration period as Georgia does before a runoff election makes no sense, and deprives thousands of Georgians of the right to exercise their franchise.”
“Federal law guarantees the right of qualified voters to vote in a federal election, including a runoff, as long as they are registered within 30 days of that election,” said Ira Feinberg, a partner at Hogan Lovells, the law firm partnering with the Lawyers Committee in bringing this case. “This runoff is an important election, and it is critical that all eligible Georgia voters have an opportunity to cast their ballot as required by federal law.”
“It is shameful that the State of Georgia and Secretary of State have determined they will enforce a state voter registration scheme that directly conflicts with a federal voting rights law which was specifically intended to prevent a state from enacting a voter registration deadline longer than thirty days in federal elections. This coalition is committed to ensuring that every citizen can register and cast a ballot in this upcoming, very important, election,” said Francys Johnson, Statesboro Civil Rights Attorney, and Georgia NAACP President.
“Young people, and those who have recently moved, are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to Georgia’s voter registration policies,” said Stephanie Cho, Executive Director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta Inc. “Requiring that voters be registered three months prior to a runoff election leaves out a large number of voters who may have recently moved, or turned 18. We urge the court to rectify this situation and allow new voters to register and be eligible to vote in this critical June runoff.”
The complaint was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. The plaintiffs are the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda, Inc., ProGeorgia State Table, Inc., Third Sector Development, Inc. (parent organization of the New Georgia Project), and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta, Inc., all organizations that devote considerable resources to the registration of voters, including, in particular, minority citizens. Pro bono counsels are the law firm Hogan Lovells US LLP and the Law Office of Bryan L. Sells, LLC.
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