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Photo by REUTERS/Leah Millis

Georgia purge removes nearly 309,000 voter registrations

ATLANTA — Georgia election officials purged nearly 309,000 voter registrations from the state’s voting rolls this week, according to a list of cancelled registrations released by the secretary of state’s office on Wednesday.

A federal judge is set to hear arguments Thursday about whether some of those registrations should be reinstated. The hearing comes after Fair Fight Action, a voting rights advocacy group founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams, filed an emergency motion earlier this week asking the court to stop part of the purge.

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones allowed the purge to move forward Monday after a lawyer for the state said the voter maintenance program was already running and that any voters deemed to have been wrongly removed could have their registrations reinstated within 24 to 48 hours.

Nearly 5,000 voters were able to save their registrations from being canceled in recent months by voting in November, responding to mailed notices or having some other type of contact with election officials, according to the secretary of state’s office.

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Fair Fight is challenging the removal of people who ended up on the purge list for inactivity, or “solely because they have not voted or had any other statutorily-defined ‘contact’ with election officials in the past seven years and have not responded to two notices seeking confirmation of their current address.” The final list of purged registrations shows that nearly 118,000 people were removed for this type of inactivity.

Fair Fight says a new law allows voters nine years of inactivity before being removed — compared to seven years under the old law. But the lawyer for the state countered that the people in question were placed on the inactive list before the new law took effect.

Voter purges in Georgia became a hot-button issue during last year’s race for governor between Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp, who won the race. Kemp served as secretary of state before being elected governor and oversaw aggressive voter purges during his tenure. Over 1.4 million voter registrations were canceled in Georgia between 2012 and 2018.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in October released a list of over 313,000 voters whose registrations were at risk of being canceled, about 4% of the state’s total registered voters. Notices were mailed in November giving those voters 30 days to respond in order to keep their registration valid.

“The extra steps we took allowed us to reach people and help them preserve their registration. I consider that a success,” Raffensperger said in a statement.

Raffensperger’s office has defended the list maintenance, saying it makes the administration of elections smoother and helps guard against voter fraud.