LEESBURG — Lee County Elections Supervisor Veronica Johnson said Tuesday that it came as no surprise that a watchdog group has announced that the southwest Georgia county adjacent to Albany and Dougherty County is one of five in Georgia that the group says has more registered voters than live adults.
The Public Interest Legal Foundation issued a report this week that it said spotlights jurisdictions that has “bloated rolls” that the group said might lead to voting irregularities.
“We heard from that group and from a group called Judicial Watch around 2017, and they said the same thing then,” Johnson said. “But the problem is they’re basing their findings on 2010 Census figures. We’ve had a lot of growth since then. Plus, we felt that Lee County was grossly undercounted in the 2010 Census. The Census folks were projecting a count of around 32,000 for us, and they usually do a pretty good job of keeping a watch on counties’ population. But we ended up with a count of 28,000.
“While we appreciate the interest of any group in our elections process, all the folks had to do was call and ask or come and sit down with us. We would be glad to show them our records. Once you see the growth in the school system and the increased building, you understand there is genuine growth here.”
Johnson said in 2017, the watchdog groups targeted Lee, Oconee, Bryan, Columbia, DeKalb, Fayette, Forsyth and Fulton counties for what they said were the same offense. This time, five Georgia counties, including Terrell County, have been cited by PILF as having more voters on their rolls than adults. The other Georgia counties are Bryan, Oconee and Fayette.
“What these groups essentially say, based on old data, is that we are not doing a good job of cleaning up our voter rolls,” Johnson said. “But we do daily maintenance. As a matter of fact, we just finished a comparison with data compiled by the U.S. Postal Service, and we sent notices to 1,400 people to check on their status.
“It’s kind of ironic that while we were being contacted by groups like PILF and Judicial Watch saying we should clean up our rolls by eliminating names of people who had died or moved away, we were getting letters from the ACLU saying we should not delete anybody from our rolls.”
The Public Interest Legal Foundation said in a news release it is spotlighting jurisdictions across 29 states for in-depth inspections of voter registration records and local list maintenance practices in preparation for the 2020 presidential election. At least 244 counties across 28 states plus Alaska and D.C. report bloated voter rolls to federal officials, according to the release. In response, public records research, voter roll audits and various litigation activities are now underway.
“One of the most effective strategies for protecting the integrity of American elections is keeping voter rolls clean,” PILF President and General Counsel J. Christian Adams said in the news release. “Carefully maintained records will better prepare state and local governments to quickly recover from any future cyber-attacks. In addition to fraud concerns, unkempt rolls can serve as a warning signal to future corruption and failures in local governments.”
The foundation created an infographic to depict where the hotspots for potential voter list maintenance failures currently stand. In addition to the 244 counties exceeding 100% voter registration, another 279 counties across 31 states exhibit implausibly high registration rates of 95 to 99 percent.
Registrants in highlighted jurisdictions can expect a variety of research techniques and legal actions from the foundation in preparation for the 2020 election, such as full battery of voter registration records request letters and comprehensive voter list audits. Based on these efforts, the foundation will opt for formal agreements addressing corrective strategies where possible or, federal litigation under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
The NVRA (also known as “Motor Voter”) requires state and local election officials to properly maintain voter rolls and ensure that only eligible voters are registered. Holding more registrants than living adults indicates that election officials have failed to properly maintain voter rolls.
States with counties of concern are (number of counties): Kentucky (58), Michigan (29), South Carolina (25), Mississippi (22), Colorado (19), Alabama (14), Illinois (13), South Dakota (11), Kansas (8), Texas (8), Nebraska (6), Georgia (5), West Virginia (4), Iowa (3), Montana (3), Missouri (2), Washington state (2), Louisiana (2), Florida (1), New Mexico (1), Arizona (1), Arkansas (1), California (1), Indiana (1), New York (1), North Carolina (1), Virginia (1) and Wyoming (1). Alaska and Washington, D.C. also join the list.
The Public Interest Legal Foundation has a record of bringing litigation against counties and locales with bloated voter rolls — yielding settlements and consent decrees that, if followed properly, will put jurisdictions on a path to more realistic voter registration rates. PILF has been involved in bringing nine separate lawsuits in the last two years to enforce list maintenance provisions of the NVRA, including in Texas, Mississippi, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The foundation works to ensure that voting records meant to be publicly available are disclosed according to federal law.
In the past two years, PILF sued jurisdictions in Texas, Pennsylvania and North Carolina to enforce public inspection rights.
If a state or local official fails to respond to PILF’s correspondence or corrective findings, they risk a federal lawsuit. The foundation is a 501(c)(3) public interest law firm dedicated to election integrity.