Voter suppression is wrong.

Look at your own driver’s license, Social Security card and voter registration form. Are there any variations whatsoever? Do all three have your formal first, middle and last name? Does at least one of these three forms of identification use an initial instead of your middle name? Do all three have the exact same address with no variations? Does one have a hyphen while the other forms do not? Is your maiden name on one of them but not on the others?

Let’s cut straight to the chase. Georgia’s “Exact Match” legislation that has called into question the right to vote of more than 50,000 registered voters is unreasonable, creates an unnecessary burden and amounts to voter suppression.

And now, an American Public Media report says more than half a million people were removed from Georgia’s voter rolls last summer with 107,000 of those being removed simply because they had not voted in recent elections. That number is in addition to the Exact Match enforcement that questions the legitimacy of tens of thousands of registered voters.

Exact Match means there can be no variations on voter registration forms, even slight differences between your driver’s license and registration form. At least three lawsuits have been filed accusing Secretary of State Brian Kemp and the state of Georgia of suppressing voter turnout, especially among black Georgians. The irony, of course, is Kemp is asking voters to make him Georgia’s next governor.

We believe Kemp should issue a strong statement directing election commissioners and poll workers to use common sense during early voting and on Election Day — realizing that slight variations are not voter fraud. Do not deny lawfully registered voters their basic right to vote because of some minor variation on their registration.

It does not matter if you are Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or completely independent, everyone should want legally registered voters to have their voices heard in every election. That is democracy in action.

At issue is this Exact Match law being strictly interpreted and enforced by Kemp’s secretary of state office, calling into question the voter registration of 53,000 people, the vast majority of them black.  

The registration caveat is not new. The system was used in previous elections when Kemp was not on the ballot. Kemp employed the practice until it was challenged in court. After the court challenge, state lawmakers changed election law to allow for Exact Match.

So, to be fair, the practice is not some unilateral action by Kemp. The Georgia General Assembly, controlled by a Republican majority, passed the bill and Gov. Nathan Deal signed it. The Secretary of State’s office oversees elections and several groups called on Kemp to step down when he announced his bid for governor.

Despite the fact 53,000 voter registration forms are under a cloud because personal information on Social Security cards may not be an exact match with driver’s licenses, Kemp has said it does not mean the affected people cannot vote. The secretary of state argues the status of voter registrations is still “pending” and those people can vote by showing proper identification at the polling place or when requesting absentee ballots. The intention seems to be to root out voter fraud. However, there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Georgia. No reliable studies have demonstrated that voter fraud has risen to the levels that it could change the outcome of elections anywhere in the nation.

So, it begs the question: Why go over registration forms with a fine-tooth comb looking for slight misspellings, abbreviated forms of given names (eg. John instead of Jonathan or Jim instead of James), missed hyphens or misplaced digits in a street address? Such small irregularities do not amount to fraud and should never disqualify a citizen from voting in an election.

Shouldn’t we do everything we can to encourage voter registration and turnout? It is estimated 7 million people could vote in this hotly contested governor’s race. Still, voter turnout in Georgia is consistently below national averages. Turnout among minority communities historically has lagged far behind, so creating another barrier — a hoop for people of color to jump through in order to cast their ballots — is wrong.

Whether racially or politically motivated, any barriers placed on legitimate voter participation are not just an attack on people of color or an opposing political party, it is an attack on democracy. We do not want people who are not legally registered to vote in Georgia elections. We do want all registered voters to have equal opportunity. Voters should check their status at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov. Those with registrations on hold will see a message to contact their local county election office.

Kemp has said it is up to local election officials in each county to determine who can and who cannot vote at the polling places. We take him at his word and encourage all registered voters, including anyone whose name is on the list of 53,000, to show up to vote. We encourage poll workers to use common sense, be reasonable and fair to everyone who shows up to exercise their right and privilege to vote. Then, let us know when someone at your precinct or the elections office tells you that you cannot cast a ballot.

Go vote. Everyone, go vote.

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